The Superior Court will appoint an attorney from Guam to represent habitual offender Joseph Acosta Crisostomo, who is being charged in the kidnapping and murder of bartender Emerita Romero, as his long list of pending and prior cases have conflicted out all on-island attorneys.
“Mr. Crisostomo, it is official-there are no CNMI attorneys that can take your case!” Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho said yesterday.
Camacho postponed again yesterday's scheduled preliminary hearing and reset it to March 13 at 9am.
Camacho said four attorneys at the Public Defender's Office, attorney Colin Thompson, who is the designated conflicts-counsel, 49 private sector attorneys, and 16 in-house government and independent agency attorneys are all conflicted out.
The judge said many of these lawyers have represented victims and witnesses in Crisostomo's many criminal cases; others represent co-defendants in those criminal cases, as well as other conflicts.
“It has taken considerable time, judicial resources and three court clerks to ensure that we contacted every attorney in the CNMI,” Camacho said.
The U.S. and CNMI constitutions require the court to appoint an attorney to represent a defendant in criminal cases who cannot pay for his or her own lawyer.
“We must look outside of the CNMI,” Camacho said, adding that the court will contact attorneys at the Guam Public Defender's Office, the Guam Alternate Defender's Office, as well as Guam-based attorneys who are also licensed to practice in the Commonwealth.
Police arrested Crisostomo on Feb. 22 for the kidnapping and murder of Romero. Romero was reportedly kidnapped near her house in Garapan on Feb. 5, 2012. Two days later, FBI agents found her body at the abandoned La Fiesta Mall in As Matuis.
Last year, Crisostomo's brother Calistro also conflicted out all lawyers in the CNMI, except for Rosemond Santos, also due to his extensive pending and prior criminal cases, as well as traffic cases.
In Calistro's case, the court didn't exhaust government and agency attorneys.