The Buckingham Controversy

March 31, 2010

Trouble at the AGO
KSPN2 reported that 7 attorneys have left the CNMI Attorney General's Office since October when Edward Buckingham became Attorney General. They include Kevin Lynch, Matthew Meyer, Joe Taijeron, Gregory Baka, Katie Busenkell, Joseph Przyuski and George Hasselback. Only four prosecutors remain.

In an interview with KSPN2, Buckingham admitted that George Hasselback left because of the Aldan case.

Regarding Hasselback's resignation Buckingham stated," Let me talk about issues that arose around the same time there was a case where our office had filed a motion to set aside a plea agreement that was not reviewed either with the chief prosecutor or me prior to being filed. Once the chief prosecutor and I reviewed that we made a determination, we made a decision and the decision was it was not a proper motion to file. "It would appear that Mr. Hasselback vigorously disagreeed with that."

Mr. Hasselback put in his resignation immediately following that decision.

The chief prosecutor is Rosemond Santos.

An unnamed source told the Marianas Variety that the AGO is a "toxic place":
The dismal job market situation is the only reason prosecutors at the Attorney General’s Office have not resigned yet, Variety was told.

“If the job market is better, people would leave [the AGO],” said a source, who declined to be identified.

“The AG’s office is a toxic place,” the source added.

Another source said the current prosecutors at the AGO are “serious and dedicated” and “would like to focus on [their] job of implementing the law and in ensuring justice.”

But there is too much “politics” at the AGO, Variety was told.

It’s also “difficult” to work for Buckingham, sources said. They did not elaborate.
Political Interference?
An earlier post, Dangerous Politics, details how it appears that the the Attorney General's Office may have interfered in Vicente T. Aldan's case as a political favor to his well-connected wife, Dolores Aldan, former Department of Corrections Chief who now works as the governor's "special assistant for political affairs." The former DOC chief authorized the release of a federal prisoner to give the governor a massage back in January 2010, while the Attorney General defended the controversy. (Background posts and documents related to the Massage Gate story include a video with Buckingham and Aldan.)

Vicente T. Aldan was arrested in July 2009 for a domestic violence case against his former common law wife, Ellis F. Barcinas. He was accused of holding a gun to her head and pulling the trigger three times. As part of his plea agreement he was ordered to surrender the firearm. Apparently, he did not turn in the gun which is why in February 2010, Mr. Hasselback filed a motion concerning his plea agreement.

On March 24, 2010 the Marianas Variety reported on the court trial involving Aldan:
As part of the plea agreement, Aldan had to surrender the firearm he used against his former domestic partner Ellis F. Barcinas
Last month the Attorney General’s Office filed motion to set aside the plea agreement with Mr. Aldan and open a case against the him.

But yesterday, the AGO informed Superior Court Associate Judge David Wiseman that it was withdrawing its motion.

Wiseman noted that Mr. Aldan poked and pulled the handgun’s trigger many times at his victim.

“I don’t know,” Assistant Attorney General George Hasselback replied to Wiseman’s inquiry on the reason why the government was withdrawing its motion to open the case.

Hasselback told Wiseman that the court “has to take up [the matter] with [his] supervisor.”

Hasselback was referring to Chief Prosecutor Rosemond B. Santos, who did not reply to an e-mail from this reporter.
From the Saipan Tribune (March 24, 2010):
Last Tuesday, Hasselback asked the Superior Court-reportedly at the behest of Santos--to withdraw his earlier motion to set aside the plea agreement in the case against Vicente T. Aldan.

Hasselback told the court that his supervisor instructed him to withdraw the motion. He said he does not know why Santos asked him to withdraw the motion since he was not involved in the decision-making.

Vicente T. Aldan, husband of former Corrections commissioner Dolores Aldan, had been convicted in November 2009 of assaulting his former wife in July 2009 on Tinian. His conviction was based on a plea bargain he made, and contained several requirements, including the surrender of a firearm.

Hasselback later found out that Aldan has failed to surrender the firearm, prompting him to ask the court to revoke the plea agreement and allow the government to re-file the charging information in the case. He later withdrew the motion at the instruction of Santos.
Still after over a week of this controversy there is no statement from Santos. What is also revealing is that the decision to withdraw the motion was made without input from Mr. Hasselback.

Attorney General Edward Buckingham admitted that former Department of Corrections commissioner, Dolores Aldan asked him to review her convict-husband's case. He said that he received a call from her on March 16, 2010 and the same day he asked his chief prosecutor Rosemond Santos to review the case. The AG claimed that no "special treatment" was made in the case of Vicente T. Aldan. Buckingham claimed that it was "unfair to the defendant" to file the motion. From the Saipan Tribune (March 27, 2010):
Hasselback later found out that Vicente Aldan failed to surrender the gun, prompting him to ask the court to revoke the plea agreement and allow the government to re-file the charging information in the case.
Buckingham said yesterday that Hasselback's filing of the motion to set aside the plea agreement was a mistake.

“When a defendant and their attorney accept a plea agreement, the defendant receives punishment which may include going into custody. What the defendant gets out of the deal is the Commonwealth agreement to drop all other charges in a case,” he said.

He said it is his view that it is very inappropriate to have a defendant serve a substantial part of his sentence and then, while the sentence is still being served, to have the government reopen the case.
What seems "unfair" and certainly unjust is that a dangerous prisoner violates a plea agreement and no action is taken!

It was on July 2, 2009 that Vicente T. Aldan pointed a handgun at the head of Ellis Barcinas and pulled the trigger several times. Thankfully, the weapon did not go off. Aldan was sentenced to 6 months in prison according to the Saipan Tribune (emphasis added):
Associate Judge David A. Wiseman ordered Vicente T. Aldan to serve the six-month imprisonment without parole for assault.

Following a plea agreement, Wiseman placed Aldan on three years of supervised probation and required him to pay a $500 fine plus court costs and probation fees. He was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and surrender his firearm.

Wiseman allowed Aldan to begin serving the prison term on Dec. 7, 2009, at 8am at the Department of Corrections.
The defendant was also ordered not to have any direct or indirect contact with the victim. Vicente T. Aldan's victim, Ellis Barcinas of Tinian wrote an open letter to AG Buckingham that was published in the Saipan Tribune on December 15, 2009 that also suggest political interference in this case. The letter accused DOC Commissioner Aldan and some officers of violating the rights of Ms. Barcinas.

Dear Attorney General Edward Buckingham:
This is to register a complaint with your office concerning the lack of assistance provided to me as a domestic violence victim by the Office of the Victims Rights Advocate in connection with my complaint of the shooting incident of July 2, 2009, the abuse of authority by the Tinian Department of Public Safety in entering my property without my consent, allowing the defendant to have indirect contact with me and trespass my property, and the abuse of authority by the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, Ms. Dolores San Nicolas Aldan, and several officers within the Tinian DPS for their involvement in the incident of Nov. 11, 2009.
First, I would like to share some background information on this matter so you can understand my frustration. This issue springs from a July 2, 2009, incident when, after an argument, my domestic partner, Vicente Aldan, pointed a gun at me and pulled the trigger several times. This was a very frightening experience to have someone point a gun at me, menacingly pull of the trigger and not knowing whether I was going to be killed with each pull of the trigger. Thankfully I escaped, barefoot and all but with my life intact.

Here is my first complaint: Since I filed the complaint until the case was disposed of by means of a guilty plea by the defendant, I was never contacted by the Victims Rights Office or any advocate in that office. No one contacted me to inform me of my rights under the Victims Rights Act. It was only when someone told me of this Act that I found out that the law requires the office to extend such assistance to me and guarantees many rights to victims like myself. I was never informed of my rights under the Act, I was never extended any assistance, including assistance with creditors, was never notified of any court proceedings, was not told of nor afforded my right to be present at all court proceedings, never informed of my rights to confer with the prosecutor, and did not receive any information regarding the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of my abuser.

I was never once informed of these rights contained in 6 CMC 9109, et seq. In fact, the only information I got about the status of my case or the whereabouts of my abuser was from the newspapers. I learned that he pleaded guilty, again only by happenstance due to something the Tinian DPS did to me, as I discuss below. Why was I not involved in the plea-bargaining? How were my rights as a victim protected if no one bothered to even tell me that the case was moving to a plea agreement? It seems that what happened to me was tossed aside and dealt with as unimportant-that my fleeing for my life after the defendant tried to kill me was ignored and belittled.

My second complaint: The Tinian DPS allowed the defendant to trespass on my property without my consent and tricked my daughter into believing that they had authority to enter my property. (I filed a complaint regarding this matter with the Tinian DPS, Case No. 09-000448.) On Nov. 11, 2009, between 10:30am and 10:45am, the Tinian DPS (officers Wally Villagomez and Eloy Fitial) came to my house (the scene of the July 2, 2009, shooting incident). At that time, I was not at my house but my daughter Vionna Aldan was outside the house. The officers got out of the car and held a piece of paper to Vionna, telling her that they have court papers and that they are there so that the defendant could show the officers where the gun was hidden. My daughter, noticing that the paper was official looking, just believed the officers that it was a search warrant or something like that. Besides, they told her it was papers giving them the right to be there. Pretty soon, the defendant got out of a rental car that came with the officers in the DPS vehicle and walked over to the side of the house. The Department of Corrections Commissioner, Dolores San Nicolas Aldan, also came out of the rental car and accompanied the defendant, Vicente Aldan. What is noteworthy here is that the Commissioner is also recently married to Vicente Aldan, the defendant.

My third complaint: The Tinian DPS and Corrections abused their authority. The Tinian DPS, namely the officers in this incident, lied to Vionna that they had authority to be on my property. The paper they used to pretend they had authority was the judgment and commitment order issued by the court. In fact, I was never served a copy of the order and it was only after I had gone to the Tinian DPS to file a complaint about this trespass incident that I was given a copy of the order. The order specifically prohibits the defendant from having any direct or indirect contact with me, and to surrender the gun he used in the incident. Nowhere on the order does it give the Tinian DPS any authority to be on my property without a search warrant. In addition, why was the Commissioner involved in this case if she is the defendant's spouse? Doesn't that present a conflict of interest on her part to be involved in protecting her interests, i.e. the interest of her spouse? She should not be involved in this case in any form. What is also interesting is that the case went swiftly from incident to adjudication, indicating that there's a strong likelihood that she exerted some influence due to her official capacity to get the defendant out of jail (so they can marry), etc? Did she also have some involvement in making sure that I did not know about the case, not made aware of the proceedings so that I can be heard, because it may delay the adjudication of the case? To what extent was she involved in getting the Tinian DPS to do her bidding, whatever that may be in reference to this case?

Finally, I am concerned that there may be retaliation actions that are being planned against me as a result of my complaining to you. I have had people tell me to be careful because they have heard from some police officers that I will targeted (scrutinized for traffic citations, etc.) if I continue to complain. I also was informed that Officer Melvin Monkeya believes that a police officer can enter anyone's property without any legal documents. I believe he needs to be reminded that such entry without any warrant is only allowable in exigent circumstances and that his position does not give him blanket authority to go anywhere.

I want this entire incident to be thoroughly investigated as to why I was never consulted on any issue relating to my domestic violence case, why were the officers and Commissioner allowed to be involved in enabling the defendant to violate the court order of no contact with me, and what solutions will be arrived at to ensure that my rights are protected.

Ellis Barcinas
San Jose, Tinian
In January 2010, the Marianas Variety published an article which stated that Commissioner Aldan "declined to comment" and the OAG has not responded to an inquiry regarding the complaint of Ms. Barcinas. Why didn't he respond to this victim?

Maybe it's just me, but I would not expect that a Commissioner of the Department of Corrections would be marrying a violent criminal less than 6 months after the criminal act. This whole story is like a soap opera gone bad, but it gets even worse.

It was also reported that as Commissioner Aldan allowed her husband weekend furloughs from prison. In January 2010, DOC Commissioner Dolores Aldan claims that her prisoner-husband does "not get any special treatment":
She said her husband is released from prison on weekends because he is among the many prisoners eligible for the home furlough program.

“We have a lot of inmates on furlough. This program has been.what.20 years old already,” said Dolores Aldan in an interview.

She said her husband, Vicente T. Aldan, is eligible for the home furlough program because his conviction-assault-is a misdemeanor.

“Me, I don't want problems. We are professionals here to handle our own discretion, judgment, whatever it is,” she said.
Holding a gun to a person's head and pulling the trigger three times must be a misdemeanor in the CNMI and furloughs for prisoners in the CNMI also appear to be routine. Judge Wiseman sentenced Vincente Aldan to six months in prison without parole so apparently furloughs are allowed, but parole isn't. Citizens and tourists may wonder what exactly are "furlough" policies in the CNMI. How many prisoners are given furloughs, how often, and under what conditions? The public should know if this prisoner who still has possession of his gun in violation of the plea agreement still get weekend furloughs.

It sure seems that that Vicente T. Aldan received "special treatment", not just from his wife, but from the AGO. Maybe Mr. Hasselback will reveal what he knows.

Hearing Yesterday
Yesterday Superior Court Judge David Wiseman said that Aldan's possession of the handgun "poses serious concerns for the safety of the community.” The hearing yesterday was unconventional with AAG Hasselback sitting in the gallery and another AAG, Brian Gallagher at the bench appearing for the government. The judge reportedly instructed Hasselback to join Gallagher at the bench. From the Saipan Tribune:
Assistant attorney general Brian Gallagher appeared for the government yesterday. Hasselback sat in the gallery.

Noticing this, Wiseman asked Gallagher: “Why are you here? It doesn't make sense. Why not Hasselback?”

The judge then instructed Hasselback to sit beside Gallagher at the prosecution's table.

Gallagher explained that Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham instructed him to appear. He then tried to read Buckingham's position in the case “for the record.”

Wiseman, however, interrupted him and asked why he was reading Buckingham's message in which the AG was taking the defense's role.

“What authority do you have to withdraw the motion?” Wiseman asked. Gallagher replied he is with the OAG and was instructed to do so.

Hasselback stated that since he is resigning from the OAG on April 5, he does not know what will happen to the motion to withdraw the plea agreement he filed. He suggested the appointment of a special prosecutor for this case.

Wiseman agreed, saying that if the AG still wants to take the role of the defense, he will entertain the appointment of a special prosecutor.
The Marianas Variety reported:
Superior Court Associate Judge David Wiseman yesterday said the Attorney General’s Office appeared to be “lawyering” for domestic violence convict Vicente T. Aldan.

During the resumption of the hearing for the government’s motion to set aside the plea agreement it entered with Aldan, 52, Wiseman asked what Assistant Attorney General Brian Gallagher was doing in the courtroom.

Gallagher attended the hearing with Assistant Attorney General George Hasselback.

Aldan appeared under the custody of the Department of Corrections. He has been serving his six months imprisonment since Dec. 2009.

Variety was told that Chief Prosecutor Rosemond B. Santos sought for continuance of yesterday’s hearing.

During its hearing last week, Hasselback told the court that the AGO was withdrawing its motion to set aside the plea agreement and to prosecute Aldan for his failure to surrender the handgun he used against his former domestic partner.

Gallagher yesterday told the court that Attorney General Edward Buckingham instructed him to read a message from the AG to the court.

Among other things, Buckingham told the court that the plea agreement was “poorly drafted.”...

...Hasselback asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor since his last day in office will be on Monday, April 5, 2010.

Wiseman noted that the request was premature.

Hasselback reminded the court about the “very clear stand of [the AG’s] office” regarding the case.

Hasselback also noted “some personal repercussions.”

Gallagher told reporters that he was the prosecutor assigned to Wiseman’s courtroom and other inquiries should be directed to Buckingham.

“I totally disagree,” Hasselback told reporters when asked for his reaction to Buckingham’s statement.
At least the judge appears to be aware that the AGO is defending the criminal rather than representing the best interest of the public.

According to the Saipan Tribune Buckingham is worried about the poor drafting of a plea, but not about a violent criminal having a handgun and being allowed furloughs on weekends? From the article:
What is extraordinary about the case of defendant Vicente T. Aldan isn't familial connections but a plea agreement that wasn't drafted well, according to Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham.

In an interview with Saipan Tribune, Buckingham said the plea agreement should have specified what would happen if Aldan fails to comply with the conditions of the agreement.

The plea agreement was drafted by then assistant attorney general George Hasselback.

“Our office drafted the plea agreement so we should be responsible for it, not [Aldan],” Buckingham pointed out.
Hasselback said yesterday that Buckingham is entitled to his opinion.

Buckingham said the condition of retrieving the gun was known prior to Aldan entering the Department of Corrections' custody.

“If it was not retrieved, a motion to set aside the plea agreement should have been filed before he went into custody. Also, an extraordinary motion like this should have been reviewed, prior to filing, with the Chief Prosecutor,” Buckingham said.

He said Aldan signed the plea agreement on Nov. 2, 2009, and entered the DOC as a detainee on Dec. 7, 2009-about a month later.

Buckingham said one could not expect Aldan to retrieve the weapon while he is locked up.
Did Mr. Buckingham forget that this criminal is furloughed on weekends?! While the AG, attorneys and the judge discuss the merits of a motion and plea, a violent criminal remains in possession of a handgun.


Former Prosecutor said...

In most prosecution offices there would have been some pre-filing supervisory review of both the plea agreement and especially the motion that AAG George Hasselback filed. That there was not is testimony to the extreme shortage of resources the OAG labors under, and perhaps to the inexperience of the Chief Prosecutor and AAG Hasselback himself.

The AG may have a harsh and demanding leadership style, but not one of his detractors has cited any legal authority whatsoever for withdrawing a plea agreement under such circumstances! Defendants fail to comply with plea agreement provisions all the time, particularly with respect to fines and restitution.

The remedy is generally contained in the well-drafted agreement itself, not in retroactively withdrawing or amending the agreement.

The Defendant is already serving his jail sentence. Dissolving the plea agreement and judgment of conviction at this late date would impose serious due process concerns. The primary role of a government attorney is to do justice:

The [prosecutor] is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the twofold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor–indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.

Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88 (1935).

George is a smart, dedicated prosecutor who has worked hard under adverse conditions. He is also a bit headstrong. His professional disagreements do not warrant the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Judge Wiseman should certainly know that. In the absence of statutory authority granting him the power to do so, this would be a serious separation of powers issue. The OAG fulfilling its obligations under Berger does not, not, NOT trasmute it into an advocate for the defense. Judge Wiseman should know that, too!

The Court should not let its personal antipathy toward an executive branch Administration result in ad hoc decision-making from the bench.

Making legal decisions without citation to applicable legal authority is exactly what has gotten us into this mess in the first place.

Anonymous said...

A party to a case can withdraw its own motion any time it wants to. The judge's job is to rule on real existing disputes between the parties, not to force the parties to dispute issues that neither one of them wants to dispute. Whatever one may think about the AG becoming an "advocate for the defense," that's a whole lot better then the judge becoming an advocate for the Government.

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! A lot of the CNMI's legal problems can be laid at the feet of some of our judiciary being unable to accept, follow, and adhere to their limited role as servants of the law.

And at least half of CNMI lawyers' arguments are unsupported or barely supported by legal authority because the judges don't make them (and don't do it themselves in many of their decisions from the bench, without a law clerk to help them). This was perhaps excusable in the days of inadequate law libraries, but not in the internet age.

Sitting on the bench, it becomes easy to think they could do better than the parties and lawyers appearing before them. And maybe they could.

But if that's what they want to do, then they should follow the paths of Jesus C. Borja, who ran for Lt. Governor after distinguished service on the Supreme Court, or Juan T. Lizama, an intelligent but overbearing and self-important Superior Court judge who unsuccessfully sought the Delegate seat in 2008. It's easy to win a retention election when no one is opposing you.

Court Watcher said...

Judge Munson was smart enough, experienced enough, dignified enough, and courtly enough to back off from the attempted judicial “lynching” without supporting legal precedent of Governor Fitial for the temporary transfer of a pretrial detainee to assist in emergency alternative medical treatment. While this was ill-advised, and seemingly created an appearance of impropriety, Judge Munson correctly saw that it was not the Court's role to get into the matter at that procedural posture.

He quashed the evidentiary hearing even though one of the Judge's favorite aphorisms was “For every wrong, there is a remedy.”

This reminds me of Judge Govendo's quixotic quest for some of Matt Gregory's very limited MPLA billing records concerning an isolated matter. Perhaps the two judges are frustrated, wanna-be prosecutors?

It must be maddening to them sometimes, seeing the prosecutors not do as well as they should because of inadequate resources and extraordinarily high personnel turnover going back decades. (Why do most local lawyers not stay there very long, if at all? Do low salaries for AAGs with over five years practive have anything to do with it?) But it is not the judges' job to put a thumb on the scales of justice. Impartiality must be their watchword.

Hopefully Judge Wiseman will also see that the remedy is not always in court, and certainly not always at the whim of the judge. Maybe he will learn a little judicial restraint, and sua sponte quash the hearing.

Then counsel for defendant can negotiate with the OAG about finding and turning over the weapon. Courtrooms are not the only place to solve the world's problems.

The Saipan Blogger said...

It would be a great time for a crime spree!

Anonymous said...

Had the AGO let the defense raise these issues, and had the judge ruled against the government, there would have been no controversy, and no suggestion of any impropriety. But having the AGO take the defense role, particularly after there was political favoritism shown the defendant due to his marriage to a cabinet level official, stinks to high heaven. A special prosecutor needs to be appointed.

Anonymous said...

Aldan or his law abiding wife should have just turned the gun in. Bet he sold it.

Anonymous said...

The OAG cannot try to "win" at all costs. There is no legal authority to appoint a special prosecutor in such circumstances, just as there was none to deny withdrawing the motion.

It would be interesting to get a copy of the original motion, and see how much legal authority was provided in the first place to vacate a sentence whose jail term is already 1/3 served.

It sounds like the plea agreement wasn't very well drafted. Perhaps someone should send a copy of that, too, to Wendy.

There are rules and precedents in court for a reason.

Anonymous said...

It is a federal offense for anyone to possess guns or ammunition who has been convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) & (9).

Anonymous said...

A good point 10:09. Why didn't Aldan turn in the gun? He agreed to. And why was he at his ex's house in Tinian "searching" for his gun in November 2009 according to his ex: "The officers got out of the car and held a piece of paper to Vionna, telling her that they have court papers and that they are there so that the defendant could show the officers where the gun was hidden. My daughter, noticing that the paper was official looking, just believed the officers that it was a search warrant or something like that. Besides, they told her it was papers giving them the right to be there. Pretty soon, the defendant got out of a rental car that came with the officers in the DPS vehicle and walked over to the side of the house. The Department of Corrections Commissioner, Dolores San Nicolas Aldan, also came out of the rental car and accompanied the defendant, Vicente Aldan."

Anonymous said...

Was the OAG laying a trap for Aldan so ATF could get him?

Jane said...

This is a lot of smoke.

Where there's smoke, there's usually fire.

Why hasn't this gun been turned in? Would ballistics testing connect it to some other crime? Or is it just as suggested, it's been sold?

I disagree with the judge wanting to know why Gallagher and not Hasselback was at the counsel table--that really is for the AG's office to determine and not the Court's concern.

But I think the judge's instincts are right. There's a criminal sanction that the court ordered; it's been called to the court's attention that the plea-bargained agreement and court-ordered sentence has not been complied with; and the court has an interest in seeing that its sentence is enforced.

This is an example of politics in action. It's scummy. And the AGO deserves the hit in the media.

Anonymous said...

where is the Teacher? I thought he knows lots of scammers in this island? why he hasn't comment anything for this? Does he only comment if the scam was done by guest workers/investors and not these people?

Anonymous said...

Buckingham needs to have his Rotarian membership revoked. His behavior FAILS the 4-way test.

Captain said...

What caliber/type was this gun? I have not read about anything on this gun.
Could this gun be a 9mm?
Was this gun in the house when he and his ex were together or did he just show up with it at the time of the incident?.
Was his present wife issued a weapon while she was at corrections?

Can a legal spouse be made to testify against the other?
What about anything that happened prior to the marriage?

Why was his present (legal) wife so interested to accompany him and travel to Tinian to recover the gun and not turn it in?
Why was she the only one that was transferred out of Corrections?
As stated; Maybe "much" is involved here other than just "turning in" the gun.

Saipan Writer said...

The Tribune today (Friday) reports that Mike Evangelista is leaving the AGO, too. Tribune article

This is a real loss, because Mike is hard-working, dedicated, knowledgeable, ethical and nice.

Things must be very bad there.

Anonymous said...

And then there were three. AAG attorneys. Is one more leaving in the 15th?

AG Watcher said...

Say, Anons 3:16, 5:57, 8:38, 10:19 and Court Watcher -- Where is YOUR legal authority to justify the Attorney General suddenly acting like the defense?

How about YOUR legal authority for the Attorney General being little more than the Governor's puppet?

Come on, "servants of the law" - why don't you serve the law that says it's NOT ok for a man to try to kill his wife with a gun?

How about the law that says a person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor should not be allowed to have a gun at all?

Or the principle that says that a man who violates his plea agreement in one breathtakingly egregious way (FAILING TO TURN OVER THE GUN THAT WAS USED IN AN ATTEMPTED MURDER) should be held accountable by public prosecutors?

Do I have to dig up legal authority to persuade you that our public prosecutors should at least TRY? Shouldn't common sense tell you that?

What would it take to persuade our "servants of the law" to err on the side of protecting innocent people?

Anonymous said...

"This is a real loss, because Mike is hard-working, dedicated, knowledgeable, ethical and nice."

Are you sure you're talking about a lawyer?

Court Watcher said...

Wendy, contrary to the first sentence of your post, the Honorable Edward T. Buckingham became CNMI Attorney General on August 17, 2009 rather than in “October.”

Also, the official name of the agency is the Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) and not the Attorney General's Office (“AGO”). See 1 CMC § 2151. Of course, the CNMI being the only U.S. jurisdiction without its statutes online makes it hard for anyone to look up Title 1, Commonwealth Code, Section 2151 for themselves, but few in the CNMI Bar Association seem concerned about that obstacle to public understanding of and compliance with our laws.

For some reason, the Saipan Tribune always gets it right, and the Marianas Variety invariably gets it wrong, even going to the extent of changing quoted interviewees' references from “OAG” into “AGO”. (!)

Perhaps Variety editor Zaldy Dandan does this on purpose as part of his ongoing antipathy toward anything remotely connected to the Fitial Administration and toward OAG shortcomings. The Variety regularly runs stories about “overpaid” OAG lawyers every time a certification is filed with the legislature for experienced attorneys exceeding the absurdly low $50K “salary cap.” Can you imagine if the Variety ran such a story every time a physician's contract were renewed?

In any event, the resistance of Zaldy Dandan to “OAG” (and insistence on “AGO”) as a form of adherence to “tradition,” standing up against change, and non-endorsement of anything to do with the office is somewhat defeated by the fact that Ed Buckingham seems to prefer “AGO” to distinguish himself from his predecessor Acting AG Baka, who was a known “OAG” guy.

As with Saipan's “Capital Hill” (correct) versus “Capitol Hill” (incorrect) nomenclature disagreement, it is better to simply do the right thing rather than worry about political correctness implications.

It is also somewhat ironic that those who recently have been most vocal and outspoken against the AG were his most enthusiastic and emphatic supporters seven months ago when he was confirmed and in pushing for his appointment.

“Ed Buckingham: You asked for him; you got him.”

Anonymous said...

We need to raise the next AG’s salary to that of an Associate Judge ($120K).

Maybe we could bring back Rexford C. Kosack, Alejandro C. Castro, Robert C. Naraja, Richard Weil, C. Sebastian Aloot, Robert B. Dunlap, Maya B. Kara, Herbert D. Soll, Robert T. Torres, Ramona V. Manglona, Pamela S. Brown, Matthew T. Gregory, or Gregory Baka. How did their performances compare?

It is doubtful any of them would want to be AG again, though an appropriate pay level might attract someone of suitable ability such as Jesus C. Borja, Timothy H. Bellas, Teresa K.S. Kim, or Braddock J. Huesman. And Brian D. Gallagher for Criminal Chief.

One could speculate that Governor Fitial will appoint Joseph James Norita Camacho to the job, once he loses the Delegate election this November. Or perhaps Edward T. Buckingham will have a clear shot over the next 4-1/2 years to become the longest-serving CNMI AG ever, eclipsing the current record of almost four years Presiding Judge Naraja earned while serving for his father-in-law, Governor Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero.

After all, who else wants the job right now? Maybe Baka was right -- no one.

the teacher said...

April 1, 2010 8:19 PM

Noni, The case is over and it is one you never understood well, never acted to confront for years, and are still grasping for someone to give you something free.

We would be more impressed with your pointless gibberish if you took the case to your own country, the one you love so much, and has such desperate need for reform.

Happy Easter

AGO Watcher said...

Court Watcher,

We were not applauding the fact that Ed Buckingham was chosen for AG at the AGO. We were applauding Baka's removal. We all knew full well that the replacement of Baka with Buckingham was nothing more than the swapping of sock puppets for the GoverNOT. We, as the public, had no say-so in the matter of who would replace Baka. Had it been an elected office, we would have had a choice.

We all hoped and prayed that Buckingham would not cave to every whim of the GoverNOT the way that Baka had. We had hoped that Buckingham would have had more courage than Baka to do what was right and honor the rule of law, especially when it mattered most (i.e., Massage-Gate, Aldan's smoking gun, etc). We have sadly discovered Buckingham is no better than Baka.

It is sad but at the same time refreshing to see eight people in the AGO do the right thing and walk away (since October). I can only guess that these individuals had also hoped that things would be better after the ACTING AG was replaced with a REAL AG. Wishful thinking.

I can only imagine how painful it must be for hardworking ethical attorneys who weathered the storms under a Baka, only to have him replaced with a Buckingham and a Santos. I too would pack my bags and head for the door.

So, we didn't ask for Baka or Buckingham but such is life with this corrupt administration: what we think and want does not matter. Fitial wanted Baka and then wanted Buckingham. He got 'em both, and we got screwed.

Wendy said...

Oh and not just massage-gate and gun-gate but the AG violated the Open Government Act TWICE!

Anonymous said...

Anagram for Benigno Fitial is Alibiing Often...

Anonymous said...

When did the AG violate the Open Government Act twice?

Wendy said...

Anonymous 7:36

OCtober 2009 and February 2010

OAG Watcher said...

AGO Watcher:

Acting AG Baka was one of the most independent Attorneys General the CNMI has ever had, and a true servant of the law.

During 19 years of practice in the Commonwealth, he was absolutely committed to the rule of law and doing what was right. Fairness was his watchword.

On legal interpretations, he was dedicated to the plain meaning of words, the antithesis of a result-oriented legal gymnast.

Though accused by his detractors of “grasping for power,” Baka was humble and self-deprecating, refraining from moving into the double-doored AG's office because he wasn't confirmed by the Senate, instead continuing to occupy a tiny windowless office otherwise used by law clerks or paralegals, and doing the work of three or four lawyers so as not to overburden his subordinates. It is a matter of public record that the job vacancy announcement for the position he currently occupies was posted on the federal government jobs website little more than a month after he succeeded as Acting AG from Deputy AG.

Unfailingly honest, Greg's greatest allegiance was to the institutional independence of the OAG, which, he often told anyone who asked his views, could best be assured not by the selection procedure for the AG, but by adequate salaries, budget autonomy, and the procedure for removing the AG.

OAG Watcher said...

OAG Watcher,

How on earth do you know so much about Baka? I mean it appears as if reading a first person narrative when I read your comment above. Is it?

"Servant of Law"? Are you kidding?

Was he a servant when he tried in vain to twist and mangle the rule of law to prevent tax payers from knowing where their money was being spent? Over $4 million (enough to prevent this Austerity bill from being needed) pissed away on a futile fight against the federal government's takeover of immigration.

Nice try to dust off your coat. Won't work.

Comparing Baka to Buckingham in an attempt to make one seem better than the other is nothing more than attempting to champion the lesser of two evils. In the end, they both were and are doing evil deeds for the Governor.

AGO Watcher said...

OAG Watcher,

- "humble and self-deprecating" ?!
Hiding behind aliases and spouting your humility is far from humble.

- "refraining from moving into the double-doored AG's office because he wasn't confirmed by the Senate"?!
If you were not confirmed, than what right would you have to occupy the office? Was Baka even nominated?

- "doing the work of three or four lawyers so as not to overburden his subordinates."
I personally heard multiple times (as quoted in local media as well) Assistant AGs constantly state that THEY were overworked and overextended. I did not see Baka at all in court or in the press mention anything about what he personally was handling or doing. Even when called to task by explicitly being included in a lawsuit he failed to ever show (the OGA filed by Tina Sablan). Leaving, instead, the entire load of the work to be shouldered by Brad and Megan and others. Remind us all, please, WHAT DID BAKA DO AS ACTING AG? Be specific, as I have been.

I could go on but I think the point is made.

The antithesis of "humble and self-deprecating" said...

is describing yourself as:

"humble and self-deprecating"

"one of the most independent Attorneys General the CNMI has ever had"

"a true servant of the law"

"absolutely committed to the rule of law and doing what was right"


"unfailingly honest."

Also: describing the people who carried your load as your "subordinates" and saying you "refrained" from moving into the fancy office because you were "unconfirmed" when the whole world knows you weren't even nominated.

The Assistant AGs weren't "overburdened" during Baka's term? Since when? They complained about being overburdened all the time!

Anonymous said...

Apparently the [original] “OAG Watcher” is someone who works or worked at the OAG or is close to such a person. The “AGO Watcher” [and ersatz OAG Watcher] is a non-lawyer, based on multiple obvious misunderstandings of the function of an Attorney General.

One thing OAG Watcher clearly got wrong is the omission of an adverb in the phrase “so as not to further overburden his subordinates.” Thank you, AGO Watcher, for pointing that out.

Every lawyer in the OAG has known for years that it has been starved for resources, with wholly inadequate salaries to ensure needed recruitment and retention. Each lawyer at the OAG is overburdened, overworked, over-criticized, and under-appreciated. So did Pete Reyes and Tina Sablan provide adequate resources for the OAG to do its job? No, they added to the problem, in a major fashion. Fortunately Fitial vetoed the bill and it was not overridden. We are still seeing the consequences of their political interference.

Tina's lawsuit sought penalties from Baka and thus even named him personally, so of course he could not serve as his own lawyer. Most people have heard the aphorism, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” There are legal reasons as well that a lawyer does not normally defend himself when his own professional opinions or conduct are at issue. And the judiciary found that his views on the Open Government Act exemptions were correct, even though ultimately ordering the documents released.

Decisions such as the filing of a lawsuit, done while Matthew T. Gregory was AG, are a policy decision to be made by the executive branch, not the legislature. The self-serving attempt by a few legislators to turn this policy disagreement into a political issue to help their election chances ultimately failed, but did result in yet more OAG bashing.

Every other long-term Acting AG has physically utilized the AG's office -- C. Sebastian Aloot, Robert B. Dunlap, Maya B. Kara, the former two never nominated -- so there would have been nothing wrong in doing so.

Perhaps, AGO Watcher, you should actually talk to AAGs who served under Pamela S. Brown, Matthew T. Gregory, Gregory Baka, and Edward T. Buckingham, especially in the Civil Division, to learn what their most important accomplishments were and what it was like to work under them. Or ask fellow cabinet members about the quality of the advice they received.

I suspect Baka's most significant success was simply keeping the OAG afloat for 10-1/2 months. Those who were there say he was always ready, willing, and available to review and help with the pre-filing discussion or editing of legal pleadings, to good effect, and fostered collegiality by example.

Yes, Baka did do some important cases while Acting AG, see, e.g., Armstrong v. Northern Mariana Islands, 576 F.3d 950 (9th Cir. Aug. 7, 2009), but that is not an AG's central responsibility.

The most important functions of the OAG are making the best use of available resources, and performing legal services independently from political interference. These are usually not apparent to outside observers or critics.

But perhaps now the entire CNMI has a renewed understanding of the importance of giving adequate resources to the OAG, and ensuring its institutional independence. If so, and the Commonwealth can act on it, the service of Baka and Buckingham will have been worth it.

Anonymous said...

Having Rosemond Santos as Chief Prosecutor is a major part of the problem... maybe she's gotten her act together but sources tell me that when she worked as an AAG prior to her stint in the Legislature, WHEN she actually did show up for work, she showed up either severely hungover or still drunk from the night before.

Anonymous said...

In response to the following comment:
"Perhaps, AGO Watcher, you should actually talk to AAGs who served under Pamela S. Brown, Matthew T. Gregory, Gregory Baka, and Edward T. Buckingham, especially in the Civil Division, to learn what their most important accomplishments were and what it was like to work under them"

I worked under them and it does not seem a lot was accomplished. Ethics issues, politics and frustration with a superior who was driven by puppet master rather than the rules of law.