Senators will not be entertaining any motion to dismiss or challenge the sufficiency of the articles of impeachment against Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who is facing an unprecedented Senate trial in March after the House impeached him last week on 18 charges of corruption, neglect of duty, and felony.
This is one of the “26 rules” contained in the 20-page Senate Impeachment Rules that senators adopted on Tinian Friday night, a copy of which was obtained only yesterday.
This will be the first impeachment trial of a governor in the history of the CNMI and any U.S. insular area.
Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) is expected to issue a writ of summons to the governor as early as today.
The writ of summons recites the articles of impeachment, notifying him to file his appearance with the Senate, personally with or through counsel at a specified day and time, file his answer to the articles by a specific time, and abide by the Senate's orders and judgments.
The Senate will appoint a judge to serve as “presiding trial officer” in the impeachment trial.
The Senate will sit as an impeachment tribunal.
Four House members will serve as House managers-the ones who will prosecute the articles of impeachment.
House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan) confirmed yesterday that the House managers include himself, Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), and Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), with the assistance of House counsels Joe Taijeron and John Cool.
The team spent their President's Day holiday yesterday preparing for the impeachment trial.
Deleon Guerrero, the main author of the impeachment resolution, reiterated that it is going to be an uphill battle yet something that needs to be done on.
Rules 1 to 26
Rules 1 to 26 give the Senate broad powers, including those provided in the NMI Constitution, during the impeachment trial.
The Senate has the power to, among other things, subpoena witnesses and documents, compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, enforce obedience to its subpoenas, orders, mandates, writs and judgments, and punish by way of contempt and disobedience to its authority.
The impeachment rules also govern the conduct and decorum of each of the parties during the trial - the presiding judge, senators, the House managers, the governor, their respective counsels and staff.
The governor, for example, is prohibited from communicating with senators about the trial, and vice versa.
The House prosecutor and the governor and their staff and counsel are to respect the authority of the Senate and the judge, as well as the dignity of the impeachment tribunal by strict adherence to codes of professionalism and professional attitude toward the senators, judge, opposing counsels, witnesses, and others in the Senate chamber.
Rule 14 is about sufficiency of articles of impeachment. It reads in full, “Any motion to dismiss or challenge the sufficiency of the articles of impeachment shall not be entertained by the Senate.”
The impeachment trial will be from 9am to 5pm unless otherwise directed by the Senate president.
Rule 16, meanwhile, gives the House prosecutor up to 30 minutes to make an opening statement. The same is given to the governor or his counsel.
The House prosecutor will then proceed to present the case for impeachment one article at a time.
The Fitial administration remains mum on the composition of the governor's legal defense team, but it is believed it includes attorneys from and outside the CNMI. The administration has yet to respond to media inquiries about the matter.
If the governor fails to appear in person or by counsel on a day ordered by the Senate, or appears but fails to file an answer to the articles of impeachment, the trial proceeds nonetheless “as if Benigno R. Fitial had entered a plea of not guilty.”
“If Benigno R. Fitial, or counsel on his behalf, enters a plea of guilty at any time or resigns, then, without further proceedings, judgment shall be entered removing Benigno R. Fitial from office as governor,” Rule 11 partly reads.
At least six “affirmative” votes or two-thirds of the nine-member Senate are needed to convict the governor and remove him from office on one or more of the impeachment articles.
Senators will vote on each of the 18 articles of impeachment.
If no article of impeachment is sustained by the Senate, then a judgment of acquittal shall be pronounced by the judge and entered upon the journal.
“A motion to reconsider the vote by which any article of impeachment is sustained or rejected is never in order,” Rule 24 partly reads.
At all times while the Senate is sitting upon the trial of an impeachment, the Senate doors and galleries shall be kept open unless the Senate directs the doors to be closed while deliberating on its decisions.
Final action on the articles of impeachment may not be taken in executive session.
Senate Vice President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), chairman of the special committee that drafted the rules, said the Senate will give the governor a speedy and fair trial.
Fitial, president of the Republican Party, is the first CNMI governor to be impeached. He is also the first in the U.S. insular area.
The governor, 68, was impeached on charges connected to 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.
The governor is also facing impeachment trial for his failure to timely appoint officials for Senate consideration including a Supreme Court justice, commissioners, and department heads.