Attorney Heather L. Kennedy took her oath yesterday as the first ever magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the NMI.
“Today, I humbly accept the additional responsibilities required of a U.S. magistrate judge,” said Kennedy, who becomes the third of only three combined clerk of court and part-time magistrate in the country.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona administered the oath of office for Kennedy during the historic investiture ceremony at the Horiguchi Building in Garapan. The position is a four-year term.
Chief public defender Douglas W. Hartig presented the judicial robe to his wife, Kennedy. Their two children—Conall, 8, and Shea, 10—held the Bible. Kennedy’s parents watched the ceremony via Facetime from Rhode Island. It was her mother’s birthday yesterday.
In her judicial address, Kennedy promised to serve the court and the community with integrity and hard work.
“As clerk of court, I will work diligently to ensure that clerk’s office enables efficient access to justice for our community,” she said. “As a magistrate judge, I will demonstrate fairness and respect to all who appear before me. I hope to serve this court with distinction.”
As a part-time magistrate judge, Kennedy said she joins about 40 other part-time magistrate judges across the country serving remote locations and becomes only the third in a combined position.
When called upon by Manglona, Kennedy will perform a range of judicial responsibilities, including presiding over preliminary criminal proceedings, such as initial appearances and detention hearings. In civil cases, Kennedy will assist Manglona when called upon to address preliminary civil matters.
“I pledge to exercise care when issuing arrest and search warrants and presiding over any criminal proceeding,” she said. “I will do my best to assist parties in finding resolution of their disputes through mediation and settlement.”
Born in New York and raised in Connecticut, Kennedy graduated with honors in Economics and English from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina. She earned her J.D. from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
In her welcome remarks, Manglona said that Kennedy brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in judicial administration to the Clerk of Court’s Office, and her extensive legal experience to her role as magistrate judge.
“In the short two months here, she has shown her dedication, professionalism, sense of integrity for the court. I am certain she will continue to do so with this added responsibility of upholding the rule of law,” Manglona said.
Manglona disclosed that it was U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Emeritus Alex R. Munson who came up with the idea of having a magistrate judge and worked for its approval.
She said the establishment of the position started in October 2008 when Munson briefly spoke about it to Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals during the Annual District Court conference on Saipan.
Munson then made a formal request to the Ninth Circuit. Five months later, in May 2009, the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit voted to support the request.
Manglona said the Magistrate Judge’s Division of the Administrative Office for the U.S. Courts in Washington, D.C. received notice of the Ninth Circuit’s decision to support Munson’s request, and evaluated the basis for the request.
A survey report was then made and, based on the report, the Magistrate Judge’s Division also recommended the approval of the position for the district.
Manglona said the survey report was considered by the Judicial Conference Committee on the Administration of Magistrate Judges System, which approved the report and recommendation in June 2009.
Three months later, the Judicial Conference of the U.S., chaired by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, approved the combined position.
In January this year, the District Court began the search for a qualified candidate. Applicants from throughout the U.S. were vetted by a three-member merit selection panel. Manglona said that Kennedy was selected from this group of talented and highly qualified professionals.
“Today, after the successful completion of her background investigation, Heather Kennedy takes on the role of part-time magistrate judge,” Manglona said.
Manglona cited Kennedy’s 17 years of legal experience and prior jobs before joining the federal court.
Kennedy used to serve as executive director of the Law Revision Commission and general counsel to the NMI Judiciary. She also worked as legal counsel and equal employment opportunity officer for the CNMI Public School System from 1999 to 2007. Kennedy assumed the role of Clerk of Court in April.
In his brief speech, Munson said that Kennedy’s oath taking as a magistrate judge is a big moment in the history of the Commonwealth and certainly a significant moment in Kennedy’s life.
CNMI current and former justices and judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers, and other members in the community attended the ceremony.