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Thursday, April 17, 2014

‘Govt not going to pay costs’
Fitial believes former AG wants to return to clear his name

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial hinted at the possibility that former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham may be planning to return to the CNMI to face charges against him and clear him name.

In an interview with reporters, Fitial said that if Buckingham is indeed planning to come back to Saipan, then the government is not going to shoulder any costs.

“I don’t know why he’s doing that, but my suspicion is, I think he wants to come here and clear his name,” said Fitial in an interview Wednesday.

The governor said the extradition issue is now with Attorney General Joey San Nicolas and the attorneys.

“We don’t need to extradite him if he’s coming,” Fitial added.

Attorney Brien Sers Nicholas, counsel for Buckingham, filed in Superior Court on Wednesday an ex parte request for a status conference in his criminal case.

An ex parte motion is an application to the court by one of the parties to a case without the other party being present or heard.

Sers Nicholas asked the court to set dates for Buckingham’s arraignment, for the hearing of his pretrial motions, and for his trial, if one should become necessary.

In the footnote to his motion, Sers Nicholas said the former attorney general “is presently undergoing medical treatment, all the while trying to accommodate the court’s concerns, not to mention his right to a fair and speedy trial.”

Sers Nicholas said there exists a real need to come up with a workable schedule that not only addresses the court’s concerns “but also those of Buckingham’s health vis a vis schedule of treatments.”

When asked for comments about Buckingham’s plan, Fitial said the main reason he knows of why the former attorney general left the CNMI was because of his health.

“Because his wife told him, if you don’t want to listen to me, then bye,” Fitial said.

Buckingham, according to the governor, had promised him that he will serve as attorney general until Fitial finishes his term as governor.

Unfortunately, Fitial said, Buckingham became very sick.

As for the recommendation of Office of Public Auditor legal counsel George L. Hasselback to have Buckingham extradited, the governor said he asked San Nicolas to look into it and give recommendations.

Fitial said there is no such thing as a fixed legal opinion as anybody who has a legal mind can draft a legal opinion on an issue.

“But that doesn’t make it the Bible. In other words, Buckingham has his own Bible. Another attorney may also have his own Bible. So we have a lot of Bible (sic),” he pointed out.

Early this week, Hasselback submitted his recommendation to Fitial for Buckingham’s extradition to face the criminal charges filed against him.

Without a warrant from the governor for Buckingham’s extradition, Hasselback said the case against the former attorney general cannot proceed and the “ends of justice would be frustrated as the Commonwealth’s interest in seeing its laws upheld would be thwarted.”

Hasselback was named conflict counsel in this matter as San Nicolas and the Office of the Attorney General had potential conflicts in the case.

San Nicolas designated Hasselback as special prosecutor to assess the criminal charges against Buckingham and to determine whether the interest of justice requires the latter’s extradition.

OPA filed seven criminal misdemeanor charges against Buckingham in relation his alleged hosting of a delegate candidate’s campaign party and some allegedly questionable sole-source contracts.

An FBI special agent reportedly served Buckingham with the penal summons at the Saipan International Airport shortly before he and his wife left Saipan on a 6am Delta flight to Narita, Japan on Aug. 4, 2012.

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