Marshall Islands senator and his adviser share controversial past

August 13, 2007

As Tony de Brum lays the foundation for a presidential bid in the RMI, the nature of his relationship with Brown is revealed in U.S. Court documents about some of their dirty tricks in 1987, aimed at both RMI President Amata Kabua and the U.S. Department of Justice. Tony and Cooper were caught in the act being dishonest with the judge in a nuclear claims case, and misrepresenting RMI policy as defined by President Amata Kabua.

If it were just a matter of being scolded by federal judge for being bad boys it might not matter so much. However, the tactics of de Brum and Brown in the 1987 were an attempt to usurp President Kabua’s power. Their mischief backfired and triggered early final dismissal of the Antolok claims by the court, and denial of a hearing that Brown had requested for the court to reconsider the case. Thus, the Cooper Brown and Tony de Brum dirty tricks contributed to the final denial of a day in court for the Antalok claimants.

Cooper Brown was punished as a lawyer by the judge for misconduct and ordered to pay the U.S. court costs for the hearing. Tony de Brum was named as the author of statements to the court that were misleading and had to be repudiated in a statement by President Amata Kabua. The judge concluded de Brum was not a legitimate spokesperson for President Kabua on the nuclear claims, and even noted that Kabua had fired de Brum as a nuclear negotiator.

According to both former Congressional staff and U.S. State Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the attempt to deceive and mislead the court created a backlash against the nuclear claims cases in the U.S. courts, executive branch and Congress. This contributed to a negative perception of the Marshall Islands petitions for further payments to nuclear claimants.

Tony de Brum is not from Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, but he now represents Kwajalein in the RMI national legislature. This was made possible when traditional chief of Kwajalein, Imata Kabua, gave him “customary” land rights there, and permission to run in a special election to fill a vacant seat.

Now de Brum is preparing to seek affirmation of his new identity as a leader of the Kwajalein people by running to keep his seat in a general election this year. If he wins he is expected by many to seek election by the legislature to serve as President of the RMI.

That has naturally raised the level of scrutiny about his past, including revelations about his close personal relationship and history of political dirty tricks with Jack Abramoff, as well as his firing by President Amata Kabua in 1982 for extreme positions and bizarre conduct in talks with U.S. on political status. That included such controversial incidents as his offer of marijuana to U.S. negotiators during a boat ride to outer islands in 1982.

Now the relationship between de Brum and one of his long time close advisers, attorney Cooper Brown, is under scrutiny. Cooper Brown, who was forced out of legal representation in the RMI due to ethical and legal disputes in 1992, has been working closely with de Brum for the last few years as political and legal advisers to private landowners, preparing to join other RMI nuclear claimants in a lawsuit against the U.S. seeking additional compensation.

Cooper Brown and de Brum have also been working closely on these matters with attorney David Lowe, who is chief Imata Kabua’s lawyer on landowner matters, as well as the lawyer representing Hawaiian businessman Wagdy Guirguis in a lawsuit seeking $38 million for chief Imata Kabua from the Rongelap Atoll Local Government, for land use at Rongelap in connection with improvements there to benefit the community.

But Cooper’s role as Tony’s confidant and political partner is not new, or limited to those more recent landowner issues. On July 1, 1987, the Honorable Thomas F. Hogan, a U.S. federal judge, held a hearing in his courtroom with attorney Cooper Brown. The subject of the proceeding was a sworn statement of Tony de Brum in the form of a legal affidavit that Brown had submitted to the court on behalf of de Brum.

The judge questioned Brown about the de Brum affidavit, and determined that the de Brum statement was an attempt to mislead the court into the false belief that de Brum spoke for the RMI government. The affidavit was being used by Brown to oppose the U.S. and RMI position that the trusteeship was terminated and that the RMI was a sovereign nation. Brown was asking the court to reconsider its rulings against his clients based on the ruling of the claims court in the Bikini case and the de Brum affidavit.

The judge’s statements to Cooper Brown and the record of the hearing tell the whole story. Starting at page 7 the judge states, “…the de Brum position which you represented as a minister of the cabinet…when I first read it I assumed he was speaking on behalf of the government…the President has now disallowed that as the official position…”, and at page 8 the judge notes, “Apparently, he was replaced as the chief negotiator several years prior to his affidavit…”.

At page 20 the judge states, “The de Brum affidavit also has been clarified, if not disavowed by President Kabua…who stated it was not the position of the Marshall Islands…certainly reading it and reading [Brown’s] motion led the court originally to believe that was the statement by the government.”

The court then denies the motion for reconsideration and at page 21 imposes ethical misconduct penalties on Brown, based on, among other things “…including the de Brum affidavit…in the motion for reconsideration…” but not including “…the letter from the President of the Marshall Islands explaining or expanding on that de Brum affidavit as adverse authority which was not cited…”.

On that basis the court also cited Brown at page 21 “For lack of candor with the court in violation of…” federal court and American Bar Association ethics rules, as well as “…misrepresentation of the law and facts” and “withholding…relevant evidence”.

Starting at page 22 and continuing on page 23, the court states, “Further, characterization of…the de Brum affidavit…does not seem to be…appropriate…Sanctions shall run against E. Cooper Brown…individually…I can’t conceive of the…filing of these statements from the de Brum affidavit without including the statements from the President…After 20 years…this is the first time I think I have seen such – if it is negligence and not intention – a grossly negligent approach…”

In response to his punishment by the judge, at pages 3-6 Cooper Brown admitted to the court that the violations of legal and ethical rules by use of the de Brum document were “negligence on my part…” (page 3), and “…I deeply apologize to the court for my own misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions” (page 6). The judge said he thought the ethical violations were intentional not a mistake, but the court was merciful. Despite all his attempted excuses to the judge, Cooper Brown confessed he had been wrong to do what he did, and so the judge limited his punishment to payment of a penalty and citation for violating court rules.

Opposing the U.S. legal position is legitimate, but dirty tricks and unethical tactics gave the RMI and the nuclear claimants a bad image in the courts and Congress. Not only do de Brum and Brown have a bad reputation because of their history of dirty tricks, they have caused many in the Congress and federal government to be even less sympathetic about the RMI nuclear claims.

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One Response to “Marshall Islands senator and his adviser share controversial past”

  1. Republic of the Marshall Islands: Freedom to know, freedom to think, freedom to speak « Marshall Islands Freedom Blog Says:

    […] For archive material on Tony deBrum’s partnership with attorney Cooper Brown in an effort to decei… […]

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