Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman has declared former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham a fugitive from justice.
“[Buckingham] is a fugitive [from] justice, and his argument that his absence is not willful and he has not attempted to conceal his whereabouts does not shed his fugitive status,” said Wiseman in an eight-page order yesterday.
Wiseman denied without prejudice Buckingham's motion to quash the $50,000 bench warrant he issued when Buckingham failed to attend the hearing last Aug. 6.
The judge, however, stated that he will evaluate Buckingham's motion on its merits and consider any other concerns regarding the service of penal summons and filed amended information if and when he returns to the CNMI.
Wiseman conducted the hearing on Buckingham's motion last Aug. 29. In that hearing, attorney Brien Sers Nicholas, counsel for Buckingham, questioned the authority of FBI special agent Haejun Park to serve the summons issued by the Superior Court.
George Hasselback, counsel for the Office of the Public Auditor, argued that Buckingham is now a fugitive, considering that he was already served with the summons and did not appear in court.
Hasselback said that Buckingham lacks standing to move to quash the bench warrant because he failed to recognize the court's jurisdiction.
Park reportedly served Buckingham with the penal summons at the airport shortly after he and his wife left Saipan on a 6am Delta flight to Narita, Japan on Aug. 4.
Buckingham, through counsel, argues that the fugitive disentitlement doctrine does not apply because he is not a fugitive. That doctrine is intended to sanction fugitives from affronting the dignity of the court and to deter defendants from absconding.
Buckingham argues that the Superior Court never acquired personal jurisdiction over him or, in the alternative, that personal jurisdiction was lost when the Office of Public Auditor filed an amended information without serving him an amended summons.
Wiseman disagrees and determined that Buckingham's argument is without merit.
Citing precedent, he said a defendant is a fugitive from justice if he “absented himself from the jurisdiction with the intent to avoid prosecution.”
Wiseman said it makes no difference whether the defendant learns of the charges before leaving the jurisdiction or while he is already absent; if he fails to return to the jurisdiction and appear before the prosecuting tribunal to answer the charges, he is a fugitive.
Wiseman said not only did Buckingham learn of the pending charges while still in the CNMI, he also surrounded himself with police officers on his way to, and through, the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport in an apparent attempt to avoid service of penal summons.
“In any case, it is undisputed that defendant left the CNMI with knowledge that he had a court-ordered appearance scheduled three days later to face the criminal charges filed against him. His departure infers intent to avoid prosecution and operates as an affront to the dignity of the court's proceedings,” the judge said.
Wiseman said the fact that Buckingham was served, properly or improperly, while carrying out his plan to leave the CNMI does not affect the application of the fugitive disentitlement doctrine.
Regardless of the reason for Buckingham's departure from the CNMI and his failure to return, the fugitive disentitlement doctrine still applies because he is well aware of the pending charges, Wiseman said.
“The court finds that applying the doctrine to defendant is equitable because defendant showed a clear intent to avoid prosecution,” he said.
Wiseman dismissed Buckingham's motion to quash the bench warrant without prejudice, and declined to entertain other issues that the former AG had raised.
The penal summons served Buckingham were related to the seven criminal misdemeanor charges filed against him by the Office of the Public Auditor.
The five charges were in connection with Buckingham's alleged hosting of a delegate candidate's party at Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's house in August 2010 and Buckingham's approval of a $400,000 sole-source American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contract in October 2010 to Michael Ada within days of the latter stepping down as Cabinet secretary.
Two other charges-obstructing justice: interference with service of process, and misconduct in public office-were related to Buckingham's alleged use of police officers to escort him at the airport to avoid being served with penal summons between Aug. 3 and 4.