Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
Under this long-established legal maxim, a person cannot avoid liability or blame just by telling the judge, “I didn’t know.”
Clearly, knowing the law is important. But can anyone be expected to know all laws that apply to all cases? That’s simply unrealistic.
In Guam, a person would be hard pressed to claim ignorance of the law, when the Office of the Compiler of Laws works to ensure convenient access to Guam’s laws. The Compiler’s Office is the government entity responsible for officially publishing Guam law, and the compiler’s website gives online access to Guam law — completely free of charge.
Most people are familiar with public laws, or legislation written and passed by senators and signed into law by the governor. As new laws are passed, they are placed in the Guam Code Annotated, or GCA. The GCA is Guam’s statutory code, a compilation of public laws arranged according to subject matter. For example, laws governing businesses are found in Title 21 and laws specifically addressing worker’s compensation are codified in Chapter 9 of this title.
The Compiler’s Office makes the changes to the GCA in accordance with the mandate of the Guam Legislature — adding new sections, amending existing ones and sometimes removing them entirely upon legislative repeal. Not all public laws are codified into the GCA, however, as certain types of legislation (one-time appropriations or land exchanges) generally do not warrant codification into the permanent code.
In addition to the GCA, the law in Guam encompasses the opinions of the Supreme Court of Guam, executive orders issued by the governor and rules and regulations adopted by executive branch departments and agencies. In rare cases, the people of Guam play a direct role in creating the law, as was seen during the 2014 General Election, when voters were asked to decide on a legislative-submitted referendum. Based on the approval of a majority of voters, the medical use of cannabis was legalized and laws governing its uses can be read in Title 10 of the GCA, in Article 24 of Chapter 12.
Free access to the GCA
The Compiler’s website is www.guamcourts.org/CompilerofLaws/index, which publishes the most current version of the GCA. To research a certain law, it helps to know the general subject matter, in order to conduct a search according to the GCA title. On the Compiler’s website, look for the “Guam Code Annotated” tab. Clicking on this tab leads to a list of 22 titles of the GCA. Clicking on a title will lead to the list of chapters within the title.
The website also allows for word or term searches. On the home page, click on the link for Searchable Guam Code Annotated. This will open a new window with a search box. For example, to search for the minimum wage in Guam,
• type in minimum wage in the search box;
• select the exact phrase from the pull-down menu; and
• click on Search.
There will be 15 results, and the first on the list will be Title 22, Business Regulation, Chapter 3, Fair Labor Standards. Clicking on this result will lead directly to Chapter 3. Scrolling down a few pages leads to section 3105, which states the current minimum wage is $8.25 per hour.
To learn about the historical information and legislative history of a law, read the Source note related to the particular provision. These notes may be located directly after a statutory section, or may precede a title, chapter or article.
In the case of Guam’s minimum wage, its original source is the Government Code of Guam, the statutory compilation that preceded the GCA. In 1988, Public Law 19-31 repealed and reenacted the minimum wage. The hourly amount was changed in 2006 by Public Law 28-140, and more recently by Public Law 32-178 in 2014. (Because of the gubernatorial veto of Bill 312-33 in January 2017, there was no increase to the minimum wage.)
Source notes explain where the law came from and how it may have changed — or not — through the years. Because knowing the history of a law can provide important information, these notes should be carefully reviewed. The GCA also includes notes from the Compiler of Laws, explaining when changes were made to avoid duplicate numbering or to reflect the new name of an agency or department.
History of the Compiler’s Office
The story of the Compiler’s Office must begin with Attorney Charles Troutman, who served as compiler for 25 years; from 1978 to 1983, on the legislative branch’s Guam Law Revision Commission and then from 1983 to 2003, when the Compiler’s Office was part of the Attorney General’s Office. When the office became part of the Judiciary of Guam in 2004, Attorney A. Sergio Quenga was appointed and served for eight years. In 2011, Attorney Geraldine Amparo Cepeda was appointed the compiler of laws and in addition serves as the executive director and librarian of the Guam Law Library.
— This is the first in a three-part series. Stay tuned for the next issue of Guam Business Magazine for “Challenges faced by the Compiler’s Office” and “Future of the Compiler’s Office.”