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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Senate to adopt impeachment trial rules today

The special Senate committee that is drafting the first ever impeachment trial rules in CNMI history is expected to finalize and adopt the rules today for full Senate consideration, according to Senate Vice President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), who chairs the panel.

The full Senate is expected to adopt the trial rules during a session on Tinian this afternoon.

Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) will then write a letter to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial notifying him of the impeachment resolution, request his response to the charges, and inform him of the start of the trial.

Torres said the rules as drafted will prohibit the governor from communicating or meeting with senators and vice versa on the issue of impeachment to “respect” the process.

He said the governor will be given “a speedy and fair trial.” He said senators will be fair and impartial during the trial.

But former representative Joe Palacios said yesterday afternoon that there’s “no way the senators will be fair and impartial. They have been supporting impeachment from day one.”

“They cannot be prosecutor, jury and judge at the same time. Let the real judges be the judge or let the public be the jury. The court is the proper place for this; if the governor did something wrong, he should be taken into court. While I understand the constitutional provision on impeachment, our senators and House members are not fair and impartial,” Palacios told Saipan Tribune.

By a vote of 16-4 on almost all the 18 articles of impeachment, the House impeached Fitial, 68, on Monday and Tuesday. The governor, 68, now faces trial at the nine-member Senate.

Senators are also poised to confirm during its Tinian session this afternoon five of the governor’s appointees, including Sgt. James Guerrero as Department of Public Safety commissioner, Anthony A. Camacho as secretary of the Department of Public Works, Michaela U. Sanchez as a member of the Northern Marianas College Board of Regents representing Tinian, Martin B. Ada as a member of the Marianas Public Land Trust, and Arsene Borja as a member of the Civil Service Commission.

Influence

Rep. Cris Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), one of the members of a House special committee that reviewed the resolution impeaching Fitial for 18 allegations of corruption, felony and neglect of duty, said yesterday that the governor “tried to influence” him to vote against the impeachment resolution.

Leon Guerrero, a former police detective and now chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary and Government Operations, voted “yes” to all the 18 impeachment articles.

He said the governor used an emissary to arrange a meeting between him and the governor around the time his daughter’s job application with a government agency was pending. That meeting occurred and there was an offer made, Leon Guerrero said, but he declined to go into details of that meeting at this time. His daughter didn’t get the job.

Saipan Tribune tried to obtain comments from the governor or his administration, but was told to contact the press secretary who has been on leave for an off island leadership training and is not expected to be back until next week. The governor has not designated an acting press secretary.

Earlier, Reps. Mario Taitano (IR-Saipan) and Janet Maratita (IR-Saipan) also said the governor tried to reach out to them.

If the Senate convicts Fital on at least one of the 18 charges, he would only be the ninth governor in the whole United States to be removed because of impeachment. The last was Illinois’ Rod Blagojevich in 2009.

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