The CNMI government, through the Office of the Public Auditor, filed yesterday criminal charges against former Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham over his alleged hosting of a campaign party for the governor's delegate candidate on Aug. 28, 2010.
Citing family reasons, Buckingham resigned as AG, the position that he held for three years. Although yesterday was his last work day, he remains the AG for the next 30 days because he's taking hi annual leave approved by Gov. Benigno R. Fitial.
OPA filed the information charging Buckingham with one count of use of public supplies, services, time and personnel for campaign activities; one count of use of the name of a government department or agency to campaign and/or express support for a candidate running for public office; two counts of misconduct in public office, and one count of failure to produce documents or information.
Superior Court's clerk of court Bernadita A. Sablan summoned Buckingham to appear in court on Monday at 9am.
“If you do not appear, an application may be made for the issuance of a warrant for your arrest,” Sablan said in a one-page penal summons.
As press time, Buckingham had yet to reply to Saipan Tribune's request for comment.
A source said an OPA staff as of yesterday afternoon was looking for Buckingham at Aquarius Beach Tower Hotel to serve him with the summons.
According to OPA legal counsel George L. Hasselback in the information, on or between July 26, 2010 and Aug. 28, 2010 on Saipan, Buckingham, being a public official of the CNMI, knowingly caused public funds, time, personnel and/or equipment to be used for political and/or campaign activity.
Specifically, Hasselback said, Buckingham as AG did by himself and/or through members of his staff (all of whom were employees of the CNMI) plan, organize, and disseminate information and invitations regarding a gathering that the defendant hosted.
Hasselback said the purpose of the gathering was to provide a platform for which a then candidate for public office could address those present regarding his candidacy.
“These actions were undertaken in whole, or in part, by public employees during their working hours, using publicly owned equipment of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Office of the Attorney General,” the OPA legal counsel said.
Hasselback said that on or between July 26, 2010 and Aug. 28, 2010, the defendant used the name of a government department or agency to campaign for or express support for a candidate running for public office.
He said specifically, Buckingham used his position as AG and the name of the OAG to plan, organize, host, and secure the attendance of persons at a gathering.
The gathering, the lawyer said, was to provide a platform for which a then candidate for public office could address those present regarding his candidacy.
Hassselback said Buckingham's actions were in violation of the criminal penalty provisions of the Government Ethics Code Act and the NMI Election Law and, therefore, illegal.
Hasselback alleged that on Nov. 17, 2011, Buckingham, being a non-elected official of the CNMI, knowingly refused to provide documents and/or information requested by the Public Auditor pursuant to an investigation.
He said specifically, Buckingham refused to provide any documents and/or information to the Public Auditor when requested to do so, pursuant to an investigation of potential violations of the Government Ethics Code Act.
Hasselback said that, on Oct. 20, 2010, Buckingham, being a public official, willfully neglected to perform the duties of his office.
Specifically, the OPA counsel said, Buckingham as the AG had a legal duty to review all proposed contracts with the CNMI and certify that the CNMI had the legal capacity to enter into the same.
He said the defendant also had a concurrent legal duty to refuse to certify that the Commonwealth had legal capacity to enter into a specific contract that violated both CNMI law and regulation.
Alternatively, Hasselback said, defendant, as the AG, had a legal duty to act to prevent the continued performance of a contract that violated CNMI laws and/or regulation upon becoming aware that such a contract violated CNMI laws and/or regulations.
“Despite this duty, defendant failed to act to halt the performance of a contract entered into by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands that violated both CNMI laws and/or regulations,” the OPA counsel alleged.
In November 2011, the OAG charged Public Auditor Michael Pai's wife, Joanna C. Pai, and Joanna's mother, Columbia I. Chong, over the alleged stealing of power utility services over $51,000.
Attorney Rexford Kosack, counsel for Joanna Pai and Chong, stated that the only reason Joanna Pai has been charged is that she is married to Public Auditor Michael Pai who has attracted the ire of then AG Buckingham.
In May 2012, Superior Court associate judge Perry B. Inos dismissed the case.
The night before the filing of the criminal case against Joanna Chong, a December 2010 OPA report, which Gov. Fitial has not released, was leaked to the media by an anonymous source.
The report concluded that Buckingham's actions “violated criminal prohibitions” of both the Commonwealth Ethics Code Act and the Commonwealth Election Act when he hosted a campaign party for a then delegate candidate at Fitial's house in Gualo Rai on Aug. 28, 2010.
In June 2011, Buckingham and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson sued Public Auditor Pai over his hiring of two lawyers, which according to the plaintiffs such actions “threaten an imminent waste of public funds.”