Gov. Benigno R. Fitial swore into office Alexandro C. Castro as the CNMI's fourth Supreme Court chief justice, following the Senate's confirmation of his nomination by a 6-0 vote in a packed Senate chamber yesterday.
Castro, in his brief remarks before the Senate, said he and his wife Carmen and their families on Rota, Saipan, and Tinian are “forever humbled and forever grateful” for Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos's nomination and the Senate's confirmation.
“I will provide my utmost to maintain the rule of law in our island communities and try my very best under these trying times to keep the doors of justice open at all times,” Castro told the Senate and the crowd in the chamber and gallery.
Castro will serve an eight-year term.
Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), chairman of the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations, read his panel report recommending full Senate confirmation of Castro's nomination.
Minutes later, all the six senators voted “yes” to the Senate EAGI Committee report.
Besides Cruz, the other senators present and who voted “yes” to Castro's confirmation were Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota), Senate Vice President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian), floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan), Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), and Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota). Excused from the session were Sens. Luis Crisostimo (Ind-Saipan), Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota), and Henry San Nicolas (Cov-Tinian).
Castro's confirmation comes about a year since he started serving as acting chief justice after the late chief justice Miguel S. Demapan resigned due to health reasons on Sept. 30, 2011.
'Historic, honorable day'
The Fitial administration described Castro's confirmation and swearing in as an “honorable day in the Commonwealth's history,” while the Supreme Court said it marked a “historic day for the Judiciary.”
Castro is only the fourth individual to hold the chief justice post in the CNMI, the CNMI Supreme Court said. The first three were Jose S. Dela Cruz (1989-1995), Marty W.K. Taylor (1995-1998), and Miguel S. Demapan (1998-2011).
After the Senate confirmation, Castro proceeded to the Office of the Governor for his swearing-in.
Fitial administered the oath of office to Castro while his wife Carmen held the Bible with two of their sons in a ceremony attended by family, friends, magistrates, and Judiciary staffers.
The governor said his decision to nominate Castro was made shortly after Demapan vacated the position.
“However, at the request of Chief Justice Castro, I delayed his official appointment until just last month, when he returned from off-island,” Fitial said.
A pending resolution impeaching the governor for 16 allegations of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty included his failure to nominate a chief justice from October 2011 up to at least the pre-filing of the impeachment resolution on Aug. 27, 2012.
House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), main author of House Resolution 17-111, said the governor's nomination of Castro “does not remedy” the allegation of neglect of duty against Fitial by not appointing a chief justice more than 90 days since the post was vacated in October 2011 up until Aug. 27, 2012.
A statement from the administration said that Castro expressed his appreciation to Fitial and and Inos for their confidence in him to lead the Judiciary in the years to come.
“He also recognized his close family friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jose Lifoifoi and executive assistant for Carolinian Affairs Angie Iginoef-Mangarero and her husband, Manny, for their support of his nomination to serve as chief justice. Others who graced the ceremony included first lady Josie Fitial, Presiding Judge Robert Naraja and Associate Judge Perry Inos,” the statement said.
The administration said Castro also recognized the governor for authoring legislation to strengthen the qualifications for attorneys general, judges, and justices during the governor’s earlier term in the Legislature.
“Today is truly a great day for the Judiciary and the Commonwealth as a whole. I am tremendously confident that Chief Justice Castro will duly continue the great works of his predecessors toward improving the Judiciary and further strengthening the justice system for all our citizens. Chief Justice Castro is not just the best candidate to fill this very important position. He is the right choice,” Fitial said.
Castro came to the CNMI Supreme Court bench on July 9, 1998. Seven years later or in 2005, voters retained him.