The CNMI Supreme Court has granted the Office of the Attorney General’s petition to order the Superior Court to stop the criminal actions filed against former Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro and others related to an alleged conspiracy to shield former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham from being served a penal summons.
In granting the OAG’s petition for a writ of mandamus on Friday, the Supreme Court directed the trial court to hold a hearing on the OAG’s disqualification from any case involving the alleged co-conspirators of Buckingham.
The cases are stayed or suspended against Ogumoro, Commonwealth Ports Authority police chief Jordon Kosam, former governor Benigno R. Fitial’s personal driver and bodyguard Jermaine Joseph W. Nekaifes, CPA Capt. Juan T. Rebuenog, and any other related cases brought by the Office of the Public Auditor pending the trial court’s resolution of the OAG disqualification issue.
The high court’s order was signed by Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro and associate justices John A. Manglona and Perry B. Inos.
The justices ruled that they have an inadequate record to examine because no disqualification hearing was held.
The justices said that the record sheds no light on what steps the OAG took to screen attorneys representing or consulting on Buckingham’s case from those not involved.
“Because deciding the validity of the disqualification requires many facts left unanswered by the undeveloped record, as well as the parties’ agreement that the matter should return to the trial court for further development, we leave the validity of the disqualification for another day,” the justices said.
In the OAG’s petition, Attorney General Joey P. San Nicolas and assistant attorney general Charles E. Brasington questioned the constitutionality of Superior Court associate judge David A. Wiseman’s order disqualifying the entire OAG from the case without notice or opportunity to respond.
San Nicolas and Brasington argue, among other things, that Wiseman’s order was “clearly erroneous” as proceeding with the disqualification motion without first providing then-acting attorney general Viola Alepuyo or the OAG notice and an opportunity to be heard violates the Office’s and the AG’s right to due process.
According to court records, OPA legal counsel George Hasselback filed an ex parte petition on Aug. 13, 2012, for his appointment as special prosecutor.
On Aug. 17, 2012, Wiseman granted Hasselback’s petition, ruling that the court has the inherent authority to appoint a special prosecutor when the OAG is “disqualified because of a conflict of interest or by some other means.”
Wiseman disqualified the OAG because of the OAG Civil Division chief’s representation of Buckingham at the arraignment hearing on Aug. 6, 2012.
The order did not explain why the OAG did not receive notice or an opportunity to respond to the petition.
Following the disqualification, Wiseman sealed the ex parte order until the conclusion of Hasselback’s investigation into the co-conspirators five months later.
The OAG then filed its petition in the Supreme Court.