Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo sanctioned lawyers Ramon K. Quichocho and Robert H. Myers yesterday for filing documents that he found saturated with abusive language directed at him and attorney Stephen Nutting.
“The shameful behavior of counsel cannot, and will not, be tolerated,” Govendo said.
The judge ordered Quichocho and Myers to each pay a fine of $5,000 within 30 days from yesterday.
“The fine is necessary to deter repetition of their conduct in this case and in other matters before this court,” he said.
Govendo also held the two lawyers jointly liable for all attorney’s fees incurred by plaintiffs Shinji Fujie and Toshin Group International Inc. in responding to a motion for reconsideration filed by defendants Joaquin Q. Atalig and Quichocho.
Shinji Fujie and Toshin Group were given 10 days from yesterday to submit their fees and costs.
Govendo said a copy of his order and other relevant documents will be transmitted to the CNMI Bar Association Disciplinary Committee to consider disciplinary action, if necessary, against Quichocho and Myers.
“Any further motion filed in this case, or any other case, containing personal attacks will be stricken without hearing and will be forwarded to the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Association,” he said.
According to court documents, Fujie and Toshin Group leased a land from Atalig in June 2006 for 55 years and paid $363,000. Less than three years later, the investors were informed that Atalig had terminated the lease, with the advice and assistance of Quichocho.
On May 10, 2013, Govendo determined that Quichocho induced Atalig to violate public policy by filing false documents with the Commonwealth Recorder’s Office. Govendo found Quichocho’s conduct improper and ruled that the investors’ lease of two parcels of land near Ladder Beach remains valid.
Quichocho as pro se and Myers, as counsel for Atalig, then filed a motion for reconsideration of Govendo’s ruling.
In the motion, Quichocho and Myers argued, among other things, that Govendo should recuse himself because he is prejudiced against Filipinos and locals.
The motion prompted attorney Nutting, counsel for Fujie and Toshin Group, to ask the court hold the two lawyers in contempt for making slanderous, false, and unethical attacks against the judge.
In response, Quichocho asked the court to instead sanction Nutting for slandering and defaming him when he was still a judicial nominee.
Govendo then issued an order directing Quichocho and Myers to show cause why they should not be sanctioned. The show cause hearing was set for Sept. 3, 2013, at 9am.
That same day at 7:54am, Atalig and Quichocho, together with Atalig’s attorney, Myers, filed a lawsuit against Govendo.
Atalig and Quichocho sued Govendo for the latter’s comments that resulted in the CNMI Supreme Court publicly censuring and sanctioning him in 2010. They asked the court to require the judge to return all wages and benefits he received for the acts that resulted in him being sanctioned by the high court for violating the Commonwealth Code of Judicial Conduct and Rules of Judicial Disciplinary Procedure.
Thirty minutes after the lawsuit against Govendo was filed, Quichocho filed a motion to disqualify Govendo in the Fujie and Toshin Group’s case.
Govendo postponed the hearing on the show cause matter to Sept. 6, 2013, to allow him to consider the motion to disqualify. He subsequently denied the motion to disqualify.
In an order yesterday, Govendo noted that the facts and circumstances of the case indicate that the lawsuit and accompanying motion to disqualify were filed solely to avoid an adverse decision.
Govendo pointed out that this is not the first time Quichocho has used a lawsuit to avoid a potentially adverse ruling.
Govendo cited that Quichocho recently delayed a hearing before Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman by filing a lawsuit against Wiseman’s wife, Faythe Wiseman.
“Similar to this case, Quichocho did not inform Judge Wiseman prior to the hearing that a potentially disqualifying lawsuit had been filed,” he said.
Govendo ruled that the timing of the lawsuit filed by the defendants is not coincidence and that the motion to disqualify was meant to delay the sanctions hearing and prevent an adverse ruling.
“It is not a strategy that will be permitted in this court,” said Govendo, ruling that a mere filing of a lawsuit against the presiding judge “does not, on its own, constitute grounds for recusal.”
On the motion for reconsideration issue, Govendo said the defendants filed the motion that is almost entirely a word for word copy of their previously filed opposition to summary judgment.
The judge said the motion for reconsideration has wasted time, money, and unduly burdened the court.
Govendo denied both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ motions for sanctions for not complying with the Rules of Civil Procedure. But Govendo imposed sanctions against Quichocho and Myers on his own initiative.
At the sanction hearing, Myers told the court that he did not authorize the motion for reconsideration or the accompanying reply. Thus, Myers said, he is not responsible for the inappropriate content of the motion for reconsideration and the reply.
Govendo disagreed. He said if the documents were truly submitted without Myers’ permission, then Myers had a duty to inform the court that he did not authorize the documents.
With respect to the order to show cause, Govendo said he finds the motion for reconsideration was submitted for an improper purpose and that sanctions are warranted.
“The court finds that the inflammatory language used by Quichocho and Myers was improper and designed to harass the plaintiffs and the court,” the judge said.