Wednesday, May 4, 2011

“2 – 1 = 4” or “A Slight Change in Plans”

Written by: Mike

Back in January, I wrote about how I’m halfway through my “two-year tour of duty” as an Assistant Attorney General. Originally, the plan was to simply come to the Island, do my time so to speak, and then return back to the States when my contract concluded. However, I’ve learned that fate sometimes throws one a curveball, as since then, that plan has been somewhat altered.

193232_669380608839_10809878_37264497_2679444_oTo make a long story short, over the past several months I’ve been nominated, confirmed, and finally officially sworn in as the new Attorney General (“AG”) for Yap State. Seriously, some days I can hardly believe it myself. I’d like to think that being offered the job was a reflection on all my hard work and dedication. However, I realize that getting any job is a combination of many factors including timing, along with a fair amount of luck.

It’s also worth noting that there are very few attorneys on the Island, no amount of palm trees and fair weather can entice many U.S. lawyers away from their big firm jobs with big firm paychecks, and that life here certainly doesn’t agree with everyone.

For me, in addition to an increased workload and many more responsibilities, being the AG requires a commitment of four more years. This time frame is established by law and coincides with the term of office of the Governor and Lt. Governor, so that aspect was non-negotiable. As such, it looks like we will now be on Yap for a little while longer – with the countdown clock being reset to at least 2015!

I won’t bore anyone actually reading this blog with the tedious procedural details of how one becomes the AG. I can say that the road to get here was neither short nor easily traveled. There was a great many informal discussions between myself and members of the government, likely after other candidates had been considered and rejected. There were meetings and conferences, followed by more of the same. Eventually, there was a public hearing, broadcast on the radio across the entire State. The Legislature and members of the community asked questions about my background, experience, and opinions on various legal issues. Witnesses were called in to testify as to my fitness, etc. etc. The Legislature considered my responses, and voted by ‘secret ballot’ to confirm my appointment.

Shortly thereafter, on March 11, 2011, I was sworn-in at a brief ceremony in the Governor’s office conference room. Here’s a picture of Miranda and I, waiting patiently for the ceremony to begin.

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And here’s me and another Department Head, hands upon a pair of available Bibles, taking our oaths of office, administered by the Governor in the foreground.

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193524_669381192669_10809878_37264510_7708576_oAs with most official ceremonies, everyone was required to give a speech. Thankfully, I came prepared. Following that, we were treated to an excellent celebratory snack.

In retrospect, probably the most difficult part was making up my mind to say, “Yes, ok, I’ll do this.” Following that, the next most difficult part was convincing Miranda. Her sacrifices to make this entire adventure happen cannot be understated. She gave up a life and career to come here, predicated on my argument that “It’s only two years”. As you can imagine, agreeing to tack on nearly double that amount of time required a great deal of thought, discussion, and soul searching on the matter. While I’ve enjoyed my time in Yap, consigning five years of your life to any one particular job or location is a big deal. It was not an easy decision to accept this particular position, as there were so many pros and cons to evaluate.

My biggest concern was that I’m not technically a “young lawyer” or “fresh out of law school” anymore. In fact, I think I passed that point long, long ago. Eventually leaving Yap after a total of five years to try and find another job back in the States might be easier said than done. Back in late 2009, when the effects of the nose-diving U.S. economy were just beginning to be felt, coming to Yap seemed like a good way to take shelter. Surely things will pick up in a couple of years, I thought. As it turns out, it didn’t. I’ll have to revise my hope that by 2015 the economy will be well into another upswing. Of course, by then, I’ll be in my mid-to-late-30’s, when most lawyers are thinking about making partner (if they haven’t done so already), and have laid the foundations of a cushy, yacht-filled retirement. Sure, I’ve had the opportunity to gain a lot of invaluable professional experience here, and will have some interesting interview stories after the inevitable “You worked in… where exactly?” questions, but only time will tell how well this translates to a job back home.

Maybe that’s half the problem: that I’m not really sure where ‘home’ is anymore. Perhaps this is due to making a conscious choice to move around a lot in my life. I was born in Pennsylvania, and moved halfway across the country to New Mexico when I was still a child. I spent most of my life there, but always dreamed of the day I could venture out and see what was beyond that horizon. In high school, I spent a year living in Europe, and in college I spent another year going to school on the east coast. After graduating, I moved to Seattle, and lived the better part of a decade there. I liked seeing new places and experiencing as much as I can in the places I’ve lived. Maybe I just enjoy the nomadic existence, that idea that you can just pull up the tent stakes and relocate elsewhere. In any case, I think it’s given me a broader perspective on things, which is invaluable. On the other hand, what it hasn’t given me is any sense of stability or permanence, or simply put: roots.

Back in the States, all my worldly possessions are mostly forgotten about, gathering dust and likely a fine layer of mold in a storage unit. I don’t own a car there, I don’t own a house. Considering my income, and the insane housing prices in the U.S., I’m starting to doubt whether I’ll ever be able to afford one. In contrast, on Yap, I’ve got (the use of) a house that is more than adequate, a routine, and a life that’s stable on a day to day basis. We’re able to save a little, mainly since there’s very little to spend your money on, aside from the essentials, the occasional meal at one of the seven or so restaurants on the entire island, and a few monthly bills. There’s also the palm trees. I’d say it’s a good life. Maybe these days all it takes to find that ever-elusive “American Dream” is to move to a foreign country. I’d highly recommend it.

As for being the AG, I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s sure to be challenging. There’s certainly no handbook on how to be the new sheriff in town. I do have ideas on how to improve some areas, and a number of long and medium term goals for the future. These should keep me busy enough, in addition to the day to day responsibilities of being the chief lawyer for the government, and the go-to guy for solving problems other people don’t want to deal with. As in any job, I’m sure there will be ups and downs.

Of course, I realized early on what a sincere honor it was to even be considered for the position. It took a lot of courage and trust for the State leadership to put forward my name as a candidate, given the high-profile nature of the job and the fact that I’ll be one of only a handful of non-Micronesian AG’s in the entire history of the country. I do firmly believe that trust is a commodity that can’t be given. It must be earned. It’s my intent over the next four years to do exactly that.

As I promised in my swearing in speech, I’m prepared to give 120% each and every day, to provide sound legal advice and counsel within the letter and spirit of the Constitution, to uphold the rule of law, and to act in the best interest of the people of the State of Yap. Now it’s time to deliver on that promise, each and every day, for the next four years. Oh boy.

Note: All photos used in this entry, copyright Bruce Chang, Esq. All rights reserved.

2 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Mike, this is such a cool, crazy development and you should be extremely proud. Maybe the yacht lifestyle is a ways off, but right now you're doing your best to serve a community that really needs to abilities of a smart, capable person like yourself. You made the right choice.

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  2. Congratulation you two. As our 2-year assignment to Yap draws to a close, I find your willingness to extend for 4 years, your positive attitude and your determination to do the right thing extremely inspiring. Good for you.

    All the best in your new job.

    Since you are the new sheriff in town, see what you can do to curb the amount of wife-beating that goes on here. The treatment that some of these women put up with from their abusive husbands, and fathers is a sad commentary on humanity. My wife and I try to appeal to their sense of right and wrong as god-fearing, decent human beings, but sometimes it takes a wake-up call from the legal system. Do your best.

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