Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's trial at the Senate will not start until March, senators said. This comes after the Senate, by a vote of 8-0, adopted during its Friday session on Tinian the rules that will govern the first ever impeachment trial in the history of the CNMI or any U.S. insular area.
Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) is now preparing a letter to the governor for release this week, and the initial plan is to give the governor a week to respond to the charges against him. He said as of yesterday afternoon, that letter has yet to be sent out to Fitial.
The one-week timeline for the governor to respond could start from tomorrow, since today is President's Day holiday, a no-work holiday.
Under the rules, the governor is prohibited from contacting senators, and vice versa, on matters related to the impeachment trial.
Fitial, president of the Republican Party, was initially expected to attend the Pika Festival on Tinian during the weekend, but officials said yesterday that they did not see the governor on the island.
Senators said the trial will be aired live on MCV's Channel 60 or 14.
Senators, at the same time, confirmed five of the governor's nominees during its Friday session on Tinian, including Sgt. James Guerrero to serve as Department of Public Safety commissioner and Anthony A. Camacho as Department of Public Works secretary.
Also confirmed were the governor's nominations of 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.
This is the first time since early 2012 that DPS will have a permanent commissioner.
The governor’s failure to timely fill vacancies in government was among the articles of impeachment against him.
After voting on the Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations' separate reports recommending confirmation of the nominees, the senators went into an executive session at the Tinian courthouse to discuss a special committee's proposed impeachment rules.
When the senators emerged from the executive session, they voted on the impeachment trial rules that Senate Vice President Ralph Torres's (R-Saipan) special panel worked on for days. The 8-0 vote came in at past 6pm.
Besides Torres, the other special committee members that recommended the rules' passage were Sens. Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan), Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota), and Frank Cruz (R-Tinian).
Senators also agreed that the Senate president will be the only one to speak on behalf of the Senate regarding the Senate impeachment trial.
As of Sunday afternoon, however, the Senate has yet to release an official copy to Saipan Tribune of the impeachment rules that they adopted two days earlier.
The adopted rules are estimated to be 20 pages long.
The Fitial administration also remains mum about the impeachment and the upcoming trial. The governor has not designated an acting press secretary; press secretary Angel Demapan is on leave for an off-island leadership training.
The administration also has yet to answer questions as to the composition of the governor's legal team, although there were unconfirmed reports that the governor has tapped lawyers from within and outside the CNMI.
By a vote of 16-4, the House impeached Fitial on almost all the 18 articles of impeachment on Feb. 11 and 12.
The governor, 68, now faces trial at the nine-member Senate where at least six affirmative votes on at least one of the 18 charges are needed to convict and remove him.
However, because Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) remains in jail while awaiting trial for a charge related to smuggling of endangered fruit bats from Rota to Saipan, only eight of nine senators are expected to be at the trial.
These charges of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty are in connection with the unauthorized release of a federal inmate to give him a massage at his private residence in the wee hours of the morning in January 2010, as well as the signing of a sole-source $190.8-million power purchase agreement.
Fitial was also impeached on charges related to the award of a sole-source ARRA management contract worth almost $400,000, and for his failure to remove a former attorney general for violation of federal and local election laws, and conspiring with others to shield the same former AG, now a fugitive from justice, from being served a penal summons.
Fitial was also impeached for failure to timely appoint officials for Senate consideration including a Supreme Court justice, commissioners, and department heads, including the commissioners for DPS and secretary for DPW, which he nominated afte” the filing of the impeachment resolution.
House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), the main author of the impeachment resolution and is expected be among the “prosecutors” at the trial, said it is going to be an uphill battle at the Senate but the House will prepare vigorously and meticulously.