Resignation Questions

March 24, 2010


Assistant attorney general George Hassselback submitted his resignation last week. According to reports, his last day at the Office of the Attorney General is April 5, 2010.

Earlier this month assistant attorney general Katie Busenkell resigned. Both resignations came after former Rep. Rosemond Santos was appointed as chief prosecutor in the Criminal Division. Prior to the appointment of Santos as chief prosecutor, Mr. Hasselback served as acting chief prosecutor. Another assistant attorney, Greg Baka, resigned in January 2010.

An earlier post entitled Dangerous Politics detailed how it appears that the Office of the Attorney General may have interfered in Aldan's case as a political favor to his well-connected wife, Dolores who now works directly under the governor.

From the Marianas Variety:
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.

Attorney General Edward Buckingham admitted that former Department of Corrections commissioner, Dolores Aldan asked him to review her convict-husband's case. The AG claimed that no special treatment was made in the case of Vicente T. Aldan who held a gun to the head of his former common law wife and pulled the trigger several times.

From the Saipan Tribune:
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.
So where is the statement from Santos? Was this a political favor that will endanger the community?

For his part Buckingham claimed that it was "unfair to the defendant" to file the motion:

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 or unjust is that a dangerous prisoner violates a plea agreement and no action is taken!

Ironically, Rep. Santos was credited with introducing legislation related to the Victim's Rights Act, PL 16-52. In February the governor signed a law amending the law to place the Office of Victims Rights within the Office of the Attorney General rather than the Criminal Justice Planning Agency.

21 comments:

electric chair lawyer said...

Wendy,

I hope you didn't censor my post in the "Take a Stand" thread -- I opined that USCIS should simply issue the regs, which could preempt much or most of Pub. L. 17-1 if properly drafted -- and are simply delaying the posting so you can draft an appropriate response to my critique of your tactics, which is certainly your right on your blog. You are entitled to the last word here.

This situation poses an interesting legal question. What is the government's remedy when a defendant fails to comply with the terms of a plea agreement while he is still in jail?

You can't revoke his probation as a "punishment," because he already is in jail. But withdrawing a plea agreeement after substantially most of the term of incarceration has been served does seem like a due process violation.

If this had gone on a little longer, defense counsel would undoubtedly have done the research for us, finding case law where this supposedly shouldn't be done.

I haven't done any research on this issue myself, but I imagine this sort of situation comes up quite often.

Wendy said...

Electric chair

I didn't censor you. I have so many comments to post -it's taking a while!

Anonymous said...

The usual context might be not paying restitution or fines.

Anonymous said...

Electric Chair:

I challenge your basic premise that it is unfair to withdraw the plea agreement "after substantially most of the term of incarceration has been served."

The term of incarceration was agreed to in the plea agreement, right? So the defendant got the benefit of a reduced sentence, or a recommendation from the government, in exchange for doing certain things, right? So there is no problem with withdrawing from the plea agreement if he does not do the things he agreed to do, right? The defendant understood that in order to get the dismissal of certain charges, or the opportunity to plead to a lesser offense, or the benefit of a recommended sentence, he had to give up the gun (which it is illegal for him to possess at all under CNMI law). If he refuses to give up the illegal handgun, the government is well within its rights to reinstitute the charges, or to seek a more severe sentence. The defendant's violation of the terms of the agreement frees the government of its obligation under the agreement as well.

Captain said...

So the main concern here should be "WHERE IS THE GUN"
Could it be an order of contempt and also hold the person in jail until the weapon is surrendered along with additional charges because a handgun is not allowed in the CNMI?
Does this person have any other convictions that could also add charges about the gun?
So what this AG is doing is just letting it go and this guy can keep his gun.

If anybody believes there was no "favoritism" in this case "I have some oceanfront property in Arizona for sale"

Anonymous said...

Again, this sort of thing happens all the time, albeit usually in the context of restitution and fines.

Instead of debating among ourselves, anyone convinced the AG was incorrect should simply do the research and provide us the binding or persuasive case law to let us know.

That would settle the matter, or at least bring us much closer to a correct understanding of the law.

I admit I've not researched the issue. But the burden of persuasion lies on those who claim an official action is incorrect or wrong.

Anonymous said...

Why bother? The Guv and his cronies don't care what the law says. Look at PL 17-1.

Anonymous said...

Right 11:14 and why can't the judge rule on this matter? It's pretty obvious there's a violation of the plea agreement and the OAG is looking the other way.

Anonymous said...

A judge is not a prosecutor. He is supposed to be impartial.

The government would have to make a motion, then the defendant respond, and then the government reply. That's how our legal system works. It's called "due process" and "separation of powers."

In Europe, under the continental system, the judge does have such a prosecutorial role. But not in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, the judge can decline to make the court a party to what is essentially a sham, allowing a dangerous offender to escape the consequences of his continuing illegal acts. Wait and see. I bet Judge Wiseman says, "Give it up, Aldan, or I'm rejecting the plea agreement, nunc pro tunc to the date you entered your plea."

Anonymous said...

That's a cop-out, 11:14. If you contend that the Governor or AG did something wrong, do the legal research (or have a lawyer friend do it for you) to substantiate it.

This wild slinging of potentially baseless allegations is precisely why the CNMI legal system is so messed up. Everyone does it around here, lawyers, legislators, and judges -- or at least they tolerate it.

Making decisions without citation to authority is one of the CNMI's biggest legal problems. Part of the cause is that there are not enough good lawyers, because of the low salaries.

Then everyone complains about "Fitial's overpaid lawyers." Hello!

The OAG is not the governor's lawyers, they're the people's lawyers! And the Criminal Division is down to Rosemond Santos, Brian Gallagher, Sonny Downer, Mike Evangelista, and Jenn Dockter.

When they don't get respect and support from either the administration or the public, it will be no surprise when the criminal justice system does less and less.

Anonymous said...

Cop out, 12:23? It's a cop out to ask for "research." What kind of "research" do you need? A Supreme Court case that says when the AG interferes with a prosecutor trying to enforce the terms of the plea agreement, that it's not okay? A Ninth Circuit case that says that a plea agreement doesn't have to expressly say, "and if you don't turn over the gun, we get to refile charges," when the surrender of the gun is obviously a term of the agreement? You won't find any cases like that, because the premise is too stupid. If you think the law backs up your case that nothing improper was done, why not simply let Hasselback refile his motion? Surely the judge would agree with the AG who says that would be unfair, right? Or did the AG have to make sure it was withdrawn because the judge would have laughed the defendant out of court for making such an indefensible argument in the first place?

Au contraire said...

Hey 12:23, it looks like those who see themselves as the "people's lawyers" are getting out of the OAG as fast as they can.

Saipan Writer said...

I can't figure out how a guy in jail can have possession of a gun in order to surrender it. He surely doesn't have it in jail with him, does he?

So why can't the AG just get a search warrant and go get it from his house?

On the issue of George, that's too bad he resigned. I'd like to hear his side of the story about what's going on.

Anonymous said...

Hey, 1:47, I'm not at the OAG, so don't have the authority to re-file George's motion.

No, this simple research you'd need to do would not need this exact fact pattern. Duh.

"Can the government withdraw a plea agreement, after sentence has been imposed, based on non-compliance with a condition?" Most likely you'd find something with respect to restitution or a fine.

But more likely, if a prosecutor wants to have that leverage, there would have to be some sort of suspended sentence.

Under the old Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 35, sentences could be amended up to one year. Defense counsel would often make such motions (downward). Can they go up? I don't know.

Does the CNMI still have a provision like the old federal rules? I'm not your law clerk.

And I'm not the one throwing accusations around.

Captain said...

2:18, Jane,
Wasn't this gun behind the complaint from this guys "ex Wife's" "trespassing charges etc" on Tinian,when the cops and his now wife (former DOC Director)went to the Tinian property.
Isn't this the "supposed" reason they and the cops went to the house for him to show where he hid the gun?

Now this guy is on "weekend furlough" so he could give up the gun if he wanted to.
The question may be "Who has possession of the gun now"
Since this is an "illegal" gun anyway, the person who has it now could possibly be prosecuted for the possession couldn't they?
I would be willing to bet his now wife may have it. (just a guess, she seems the type)

Wendy said...

Hi Captain:

Read this letter to the editor by Aldan's former common law wife. From that letter she talks about violations of her rights, the gun, Dolores Aldan and an incident where Vicente Aldan violated his parole:

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?


If you read the entire letter and other articles of incidents at DOC and in the community, you can see how political favors and corruption have poisoned the DOC and DPS putting the community at risk and punishing victims. One would think that the OAG charged with protecting the people, would investigate all of this.

Captain said...

From past experience with the Tinian cop shop, this is par for the course, more so when it was run by the former Tinian Mayors son.

About 4 years ago 14+ cops left Tinian to the mainland, all within a few weeks.
Some were involved in drugs, some were just fed up with the political interference concerning their arrest of people dealing in the drugs.
At any rate these cops were far better than what has evolved since. (except for a few)

I had suggested to many people there to bring any tickets they got to court to trial as most will be dismissed. many will be dismissed as the cops will not appear on the stand in front of people as they cannot explain themselves, they are only there because of the last name and political connections.

These cops (like Saipan cops) use their position for themselves and for other political means as directed by their "leader" and will engage in "harrassment" by giving tickets and other illigel abuses of the law.
Most cannot read or know how to write a ticket correctly. They also think that they can do anything as they have a badge, they do not understand "legal rights"

Looks like this AG is another political motivated person.
I am surprised as he has been with the AG office many years prior to his appointment as AG.
Maybe that is why he got a raise and now, is the way he is. Could it be the power? But like anybody from outside he will be thrown to the curb in a heartbeat.

Nothing will be done about these complaints from Aldon's ex. Aldon is a "connected" name in Tinian.

I am a little surprised why this present (and/or former complaint) could not be brought to a Fed court as it originally involved an illegal gun that still has not been recovered.
I still believe the person(s)that have possession of this weapon can be charged also.
Maybe a non political lawyer can clarify.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Buckingham! What's the matter? Too chicken to do the right thing?

Buck-buck-buck, buck-buck, buck-buck-buck-buck!

Anonymous said...

wendy

did you know that if you re-arrange the letters in AG ED BUCKINGHAM you get DUMB AGEING HACK?

http://wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html

Anonymous said...

anon 5:29 pm;
that's a nice anagram, you did it!