As all sitting Superior Court judges recused themselves from presiding over the NMI Retirement Fund lawsuit against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and the CNMI government, CNMI Supreme Court chief justice Alexandro C. Castro yesterday appointed former judge Timothy H. Bellas to handle the matter.
Castro said Superior Court presiding judge Robert C. Naraja has informed him that all trial court sitting judges, including him, have disqualified themselves from the Fund lawsuit.
Castro said under the authority of the NMI Constitution and in furtherance of the prompt and efficient dispatch of court business, the chief justice may designate a judge pro tempore as necessary.
The chief justice appointed former Superior Court associate judge Bellas to serve as judge pro tempore in the Fund lawsuit.
“Unless good cause be shown otherwise, Timothy H. Bellas shall have the full authority to serve as judge pro tempore in this matter and shall carry out the duties and powers inherent with the appointment,” Castro said.
Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho was the last judge to recuse from the case.
In his order issued yesterday, Camacho said he must recuse himself from handling this case because the Fund is his former client.
Camacho was the attorney who represented the Fund when the first complaint was filed to sue the central government.
Fund trustee ad litem Joseph C. Razzano, through counsels Daniel J. Berman and Braddock J Huesman, wants a disinterested, neutral judge or justice from Guam or any other U.S. jurisdiction to be temporarily designated to decide the merits that remain in the case and proceedings.
The pending motion to be heard is the Commonwealth Ports Authority's motion to have Razzano be held on contempt for allegedly failing to comply with Public Law 17-82.
Public Law 17-82 allows Fund members to withdraw the full amount of their contributions without separating from the government.
The Fund filed a lawsuit in Superior Court in 2006 against Fitial, the CNMI government, and co-defendants over the government's failure to remit required payments to the Fund.
In 2009, Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo ruled that the government owes the Fund $282 million in damages and that the law suspending government contributions to the Fund is unconstitutional.