CNMI Law and Order

April 11, 2010


I wonder what Ms. Barcinas, the Tinian victim of assault thinks of the political game involving her attacker, Vicente Aldan, who is in jail for domestic violence charges against her that involved a gun. Is she being notified when the court proceedings take place, in case she wants to testify or to be informed of what is happening in this case?

Today it was reported that the Attorney General Office filed a motion explaining why he did not surrender the gun used in the attack against his former common law wife. The plea agreement called for the gun to be surrendered. Aldan is only serving 6 months in jail. (If he had committed the same crime in Florida or most other states, he would most likely be in for a much longer sentence.) The Marianas Variety reported that AG Buckingham wants to retain not vacate his conviction.

From the article:
Then-Assistant Attorney General George Hasselback, who resigned last month, filed a motion last February to set aside the plea agreement and initiate criminal proceedings against Aldan who failed to surrender the firearm, “a silver handgun,” as part of the plea agreement.

Buckingham said Hasselback’s actions were ultra vires -- a Latin phrase for “beyond the powers.”

Buckingham said Hasselback filed the motion without review or approval by Chief Prosecutor Rosemond B. Santos, and possibly the AG himself.

The AG noted Hasselback’s “incapacity and/or refusal to appropriately convey the basis for the directions of Buckingham or Santos to the court to withdraw the former prosecutor’s motion.”

The AG said the public has been “subjected to unwarranted and unfounded concern of favoritism and political interference.”

Aldan is the husband of the former corrections commissioner who is now the governor’s special assistant for political affairs.

“Put simply, it is AAG Hasselback, not the Office of the Attorney General, seeking to wipe out a criminal conviction,” Buckingham told the court.

He said it is the intent of the AG’s office to appoint a special prosecutor as earlier requested by Hasselback.

“[The Aldan] case will be managed and prosecuted without favor or prejudice in the interests of justice and endeavoring to enforce all provisions of the existing plea agreement —including removal of the weapon from the community,” Buckingham said.
If anyone has the motion, I would like to have a copy.

Another AAG Resigns
AAG Braddock Huesman is resigning, making 9 attorneys that have departed from the CNMI OAG since AG Buckingham became Attorney General last year. Huesman, who defended the government in Former Rep. Sablan's Open Government Act Case is going into private practice.

Chief Demapan Calls Out Fitial
Governor Fitial declared last week that he was cutting the budget of the CNMI Judiciary from $5,562,398 to $2,972,847. This decision was made without consulting with the judiciary.

Chief Justice Miguel Demapan wrote a letter to the governor asking him to withdraw his proposal stating that according to the CNMI Constitution the chief justice is charged with submitting the budget to the legislative branch, not the governor.

The Marianas Variety reported:
Chief Justice Miguel S. Demapan at the same time accused the governor of attempting to “influence, if not control, the many facets of the judiciary’s internal administrative affairs.”

In his April 8, 2010 letter to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial Demapan said: “As an independent and co-equal branch of government, we are required and entitled to communicate our own fiscal needs to the Legislature free of influence from the executive branch.”

Demapan said they have informed House Ways and Means Committee Chairman. Ramon S. Basa, Covenant-Saipan, that the judiciary “will not engage in a dialogue that focuses on the executive branch’s submission, but will instead discuss only the budget request [the judiciary] provided him.”

Demapan added, “While I earnestly desire to resolve this matter diplomatically, the judiciary reserves the right to challenge the constitutionality of your submission should you refuse to withdraw it.”

...The chief justice added, “Your annual submission is problematic both practically and legally.”

The judiciary, he said, is in a much better position to determine its budgetary needs.

“Anything submitted by the executive branch on our behalf that is not in line with our submission is purely speculative,” Demapan told Fitial.

He said the governor’s “systematic attempt to influence the Legislature’s budgetary decisions as they relate to the judiciary encroaches upon the basic principle of the separation of powers doctrine.”

Demapan said: “I hesitate to provide further comment due to restraints imposed by the canons of judicial ethics, but in defense of the judicial branch, I note the gravity of your potentially unconstitutional actions.”
The chief justice also stated that Fitial's proposal did not reflect personnel changes within the judiciary and also included personnel who left the CNMI years ago. Wonder who wrote that budget proposal?

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brad's leaving, too?

The intense and successful effort by Tina Sablan and Pete Reyes to replace Baka with Buckingham has certainly had an effect on retention at the OAG.

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

Anonymous said...

Noni 9:35

I don't think anyone asked for Buckingham for AG.

Anonymous said...

Noni 10:13

Perhaps Buckingham presented his desire to the Governor to become AG and agreed to do whatever the Governor "requested."

Anonymous said...

Noni 10:13,

You are wrong. Tina Sablan did.

Acting AG Baka and Governor Fitial were asking people who they thought might be interested if they would agree to serve as Attorney General. No one responded affirmatively.

So while Baka was being accused on various blogs of “grasping for power,” he was telling everyone no one else wanted the job, he was only serving out of a sense of duty and because it was part of the Deputy AG's job description, and that he would be only too happy to step aside in favor of someone suitably qualified.

Finally, Tina Sablan told Baka during one of his several visits to her office that AAG Edward T. Buckingam was interested. Baka told the Governor, and the rest is history.

This was after Pete Reyes and Tina Sablan had pushed through a bill drafted for them by Joe Taijeron imposing all kinds of disabilities on an Attorney General who continued in an acting capacity for more than 90 days, which would have had grave repercussions to the institutional independence and effectiveness of the OAG.

The forty days the Governor had for a veto under the CNMI Constitution, Article II, Subsection 7(b) were close to expiring, and an override was most likely, so there was little choice.

[Interestingly, the law applied to no other department head -- we have had an acting Secretary of Finance for almost a year. The real problem is very low salaries to attract qualified applicants, a situation applicable thoughout government, but most damaging at top-level positions -- which is why the feds made CUC increase salaries for its leadership.] The bill was vetoed, and once an AG was confirmed, no override attempt was made.

Pete Reyes had been outspokenly opposed to Baka from within the first month of when he became Acting AG, because Baka refused to sign off on a $750,000 tax lien waiver to sell a Rota hotel to a new investor.

As the second longest serving resident AUSA in the CNMI, Baka refused to give in to potential legislative corruption.

The Governor supported Baka in his clean-government efforts, but under separation of powers, if the legislature was going to pass by veto override a law so detrimental to the OAG's institutional effectiveness, he had no realistic alternative but to accede to the pressure of Pete Reyes and Tina Sablan to quickly nominate and confirm Ed Buckingham.

Anonymous said...

A repost in response to the same strawman statement made by the first commenter in this thread:

----

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.

Saipan Writer said...

I don't think anyone had any idea that Buckingham would be a far worse AG than Baka.

I was actually hopeful when he took the position.

I think both Greg and Ed are intelligent. I know Greg has integrity and thought Ed did too.

I have no idea what happens when good men go through the doors and become AG's under the Fitial administration. But it seems to me their potential for right-thinking is distorted and changed and sadly, sadly misused by a dangerous, destructive and corrupting administration.

Anonymous said...

Bucky must be stupid, or he thinks the rest of us are. Hasselback wasn't trying to undo Aldan's conviction. He was trying to back out of an agreement Aldan already backed out of, so he could reinstitute appropriate felony charges.

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"

and

"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!

Wendy said...

Anonymous 1:11

That is exactly what I thought from the previous articles. I would like to have the court documents so I could look at this.

The judge is not stupid. I hope this guy's violation of the agreement results in him getting years in jail. I cannot believe he only got 6 months.

Buckingham doesn't even try to cover up that he is pandering to Aldan's wife probably taking orders from Fitial who is keeping her happy because of massage gate. I am sure there was much more to that too.

Anonymous said...

Baka and Buckingham are the same bananas.

NO ONE is truly serving the people here.

This government sucks!!!

Anonymous said...

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.

Anonymous said...

Noni 1:42:

"Political interference" was the Governor refusing to nominate a legitimate AG for almost an entire year, treating the AG like his personal lawyer for all his shenanigans, and allowing the AGO to be crippled by the total lack of credibility and subject to public ridicule and scorn.

Baka tolerated the political interference by the Governor, and indeed fostered and defended it. Not what we want in an AG.

Buckingham, sadly, is no better.

Saipan Writer said...

Tina needs no defense, but as commenter above has put forth obvious misconceptions, here is another viewpoint.

Tina was a Congresswoman and appaprently proposed a bill that was designed to address problems she saw. This is not political interference. This is a congresswoman doing her job.

You may disagree with her proposal. You may feel it was ill-conceived and you may even feel "targeted" at the OAG by it. But it is not political interference. It is an open government. You knew of the bill. You could comment on the bill. It was open for discussion.

The fact that you would equate this type of constitutional and appropriate action with the Administration's political interference at the OAG is ludicrous. The Governor's known interference includes "requests" for a detainee to be brought by the DOC head to massage him and then have the OAG make excuses for him. It seems likely that he is also behind the situation where the AG makes excuses for a criminal defendant, who happens to be the husband of the same (now former) DOC head, in a criminal case where this defendant failed to turn over a gun and has still not complied with the terms of his plea agreement. And the AG fires? or pressures to quit? the AAG who filed a motion calling the non-compliance to the Court's attention.

There are certainly problems at the OAG. They are caused by political interference. That political interference is coming from the Administration.

Yes, we need an independent OAG.

Anonymous said...

Jane, the fact that the blatant attempts at politicizing and hamstringing the OAG came in the form of a proposed public law that passed both houses of the legislature makes them no less insiduous. This is the heart of the problem.

Prospective applicants for the OAG reviewing CNMI media and blogs see the persistent political attacks on the office and decline to work there, or leave after two years.

Your take on the Aldan case is wrong, as is now coming out in the press through the contempt motion. AAG Hasselback was a zealous and dedicated prosecutor, but he only had nine months experience. The plea agreement was defective, and the motion to vacate plea lacked legal authority and was not reviewed by a supervisor, as would be expected in high profile matters.

Noni 8:29, you wrote that "Baka tolerated the political interference by the Governor, and indeed fostered and defended it."

Ask any AAG who worked with Baka in the Civil Division. This is flat-out wrong.

It is unfortunate that the bar does not defend the independence and performance of our hard-working AAGs. If they do not speak up, who will?

The people get the justice they deserve. The repeated attacks on the OAG by the press, self-interested politicians, and a few vindictive individuals are having their predictable consequences.

Support your OAG!

Wendy said...

SUPPORT JUSTICE!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Noni 6:25,

One has only to look at the headlines in the Variety or the Trib to be deterred from taking a job at the AGO.

Please don't attempt to blame blog comments for your inability to hire or retain people at the AGO.

I mean the facts laid out in the press would make any SANE lawyer run for the hills.

Shall I go into detail?

Let's see.

- Massage Gate
- Aldan's Gun
- OGA case covering up Fitial's hiring of Jenner& Block
- New take on hiring private counsel
- Actor being in charge of AGO for over a year
- etc

Anonymous said...

It's not my OAG, it's our OAG.

The major problem at the OAG is lack of institutional independence and severely inadequate resources, exacerbated by low public support and understanding of the role of the CNMI Office of the Attorney General.

Were a prospective applicant to look into the specifics of the five details listed above, he would find that the OAG was legally correct in each instance.

Wendy said...

Email your link to doromal@earthlink.net