By Monday the CNMI will have a new attorney general when Gov. Benigno R. Fitial swears in Edward T. Buckingham, whose nomination was confirmed by the Senate yesterday on a 9-0 vote.
“I'm thankful for the Senate for their vote. I'll do my best to serve the people of the Commonwealth,” Buckingham said in an interview after his confirmation.
Prior to the Senate session, senators held a closed-door meeting with Buckingham.
“If I'm nervous about anything, it's trying to do the best job I can. I think the senators are very clear about their support. I look forward to their support, and look forward to keeping their trust,” he said when asked whether he was nervous prior to the Senate confirmation.
The governor sent the Senate his nomination of Buckingham on Wednesday. The Senate had 90 days to act on the governor's nomination for an attorney general.
However, barely a day after receiving Buckingham's nomination, key senators told Saipan Tribune that Buckingham's nomination will be acted on quickly and may be confirmed as early as Friday, which they did.
Fitial, in a statement, said he is pleased with the Senate's “swift” confirmation of his attorney general nomination.
“I am very happy to have finally found a highly qualified attorney willing to serve as the Commonwealth's attorney general with the Senate's complete support. I appreciate the strong bipartisan support extended to Mr. Buckingham. I expect Mr. Buckingham to capably manage the Office of the Attorney General with integrity and the continued support of the administration and Legislature, and the people we were elected to represent,” he said.
The governor also thanked Deputy Attorney General Gregory Baka for agreeing to temporarily serve as the CNMI's acting attorney general until a nomination could be confirmed by the Senate.
11 months without an attorney general
Senate President Pete P. Reyes (R-Saipan) said “11 months without an attorney general is an injustice to the people of the Commonwealth.”
“We're grateful that Mr. Buckingham accepted the nomination considering that there's only a few months left [before the November election],” Reyes said, urging his colleagues to vote for the nominee's confirmation.
For almost 11 months, the CNMI has never had an attorney general since former Attorney General Matthew Gregory stepped down from his post in September 2008 to re-enter private practice.
Fitial has not submitted Baka's name to the Senate because, as deputy attorney general, Baka succeeded to the position of acting attorney general.
But the Senate has been vocal in their opposition to Baka, and Reyes earlier said he would use his influence to make sure Baka was not confirmed.
During the session, Reyes said many in the community wished to convey their verbal support for Buckingham's confirmation, among them Rep. Diego T. Benavente (R-Saipan), Saipan Municipal Council vice chair R.B. Camacho, and former and current counsels for the Legislature.
Senate Vice President Felix T. Mendiola also said he received requests from individuals for senators to act favorably on Buckingham's nomination.
When his name was called for his vote, Sen. Luis Crisostimo (D-Saipan) replied: “For the people of the CNMI, yes.” All the other senators also voted yes.
The Senate adopted Standing Committee Report 16-68, recommending Buckingham's confirmation.
Among those who were at the Senate gallery to show their support for Buckingham were his wife Pam, Deputy Attorney General Gregory Baka who had been acting general since September, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Lynch, former Senate legal counsel Mike Ernest who is now consumer counsel, and Camacho.
Buckingham is one of the longest serving lawyers in the Office of the Attorney General and is one of the few at the office who has worked in both civil and criminal divisions.
Lynch is the longest serving lawyer in the OAG.
In an interview at the Senate gallery yesterday, Baka said he's happy about Buckingham's confirmation, pledging his support to him.
“I look forward to getting back in court. Sometimes when you have so much stuff and you're only temporary, you don't have the same ability to make needed changes that you would have as having that position permanently. I look forward to working with him. I worked hard to get him confirmed and it's great to have him with us,” he added.
A few hours later, Baka sent the media a copy of his message to assistant attorneys general and others in the community about Buckingham's confirmation.
“After the AG's desk having been unoccupied for 10-1/2 months, it is great to have someone permanently assigned to that office. I have long looked forward to this day. Congratulations, Ed! I would also like to thank all of you for your strong support during my tenure as acting AG. We couldn't have made it over the past months without working together, and I hope that teamwork will be redoubled under Ed’s leadership,” he said.
Buckling down to work
Buckingham said his first order of business is to move to the Office of the Attorney General.
He said he will be working on some attorney general opinions that need to be issued.
“I'm going to begin reviewing the activities of all the members of the Attorney General's Office and also work with the agencies to see what kind of services they're getting, what kind of services they need, then reviewing that information with the governor so that we may work together to strengthen the performance of the Attorney General's Office,” he said.
Reyes reiterated that Buckingham is someone the Senate and the public can work with, describing him as “very resourceful,” “very humble,” “knows how to listen” and “is very qualified for the job.”
He said one of his first requests would be a legal opinion on the measure he introduced in March, Senate Bill 16-51 SD1 or the “Attorney General Confirmation Act of 2009,” clarifying the law that requires Senate confirmation.
Under his bill, if the governor or his designee does not submit the individual who has been appointed or is otherwise serving in an acting capacity or who has assumed the title of AG, acting AG, or interim AG within 30 days, the individual cannot serve in those positions for two years.
Prior to nominating Buckingham, Fitial had offered the position to at least four attorneys who declined the offer. Among them were lawyers Victorino Torres of Torres Brothers LLC and Teresa Kim, the current counsel for the lieutenant governor. The governor earlier said he would want to appoint a local attorney, but since his offer to local attorneys were declined, he turned to Buckingham.
Buckingham has been serving as an assistant attorney general since 2003. He has worked in both civil and criminal divisions, and has also held a key role spearheading the federal prison consent decree compliance. Buckingham also has served as counsel to the departments of Public Safety and Corrections, as well as counsel to the CNMI Board of Parole.
He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, one of the top-ranked schools in the United States, where he graduated with honors. He earned his law degree from the University of Denver. He is admitted to practice law in Colorado, the CNMI, and the Federated States of Micronesia.