Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo has denied former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham’s motion to dismiss the criminal charges filed against him.
In an order on Wednesday, Govendo ruled that the court has personal and subject matter jurisdiction over Buckingham and the case.
The judge noted that the CNMI Supreme Court recently recognized that an assistant attorney general cannot prosecute the attorney general or governor.
Govendo said that if the Office of the Attorney General cannot prosecute the attorney general or the governor, then the Legislature is free to delegate that authority to the Office of the Public Auditor without infringing upon the power vested in the OAG.
OPA filed criminal charges against Buckingham in connection with an alleged violation of election laws and illegal award of a sole-source contract, among others.
\Buckingham, through counsel Brien Sers Nicholas, asked the court to dismiss the case for lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction. OPA legal counsel and designated special prosecutor George Hasselback argued for the government.
In his order, Govendo said that Buckingham correctly argues that the original summons issued to him was invalid. The summons issued to Buckingham on Aug. 3, 2012, was not signed by a judge, making it invalid. However, Govendo said, the issue is already moot. The judge pointed out that Buckingham was brought before the court on May 28, 2013.
Nicholas argued that Buckingham’s appearance before the court was insufficient to allow the court to exercise personal jurisdiction.
“Once a criminal defendant is present within the Commonwealth, the court may exercise jurisdiction over his person,” said Govendo, citing case laws.
In this case, he said, Buckingham was brought before the court and therefore the court has personal jurisdiction over him.
On the second issue, Nicholas argued that the prosecution of this case by Hasselback deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction.
Govendo said the Legislature has assigned the OPA a wide range of additional powers and duties over the years.
For example, Govendo said, OPA is mandated to “specifically act to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse in the collection and expenditure of all public funds.”
The judge said OPA has the authority to investigate and prosecute the AG and the governor for violations of Commonwealth law.
In the Commonwealth, Govendo said, the OPA serves as a “sentinel against government malfeasance.”