U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has stated that she has no personal prejudice against attorney Stephen C. Woodruff and that her husband, CNMI Supreme Court Associate Justice John A. Manglona, has no substantial interest in the outcome of Woodruff’s disciplinary matter.
In an order declining Woodruff’s suggestion for her to recuse, Judge Manglona also pointed out that the totality of the facts does not give rise to an appearance of partiality.
Woodruff renewed his suggestion for Judge Manglona to recuse at a hearing last week on the judge’s show-cause order that directed the lawyer to explain why he should not be held in civil contempt for not filing his reports relating to the progress of his disciplinary matter in CNMI courts.
Judge Manglona proceeded with the hearing and later excused Woodruff’s late filing of his reports.
On the recusal issue, Woodruff has given notice that he is appealing his Superior Court disbarment to the CNMI Supreme Court.
Pending the outcome of that appeal, Judge Manglona suspended action whether to apply the same disbarment order against Woodruff in federal court.
In her order declining recusal, Judge Manglona said if the CNMI Supreme Court affirms Woodruff’s disbarment, or reverses it and imposes other discipline short of disbarment, the district court will have to decide whether to impose reciprocal discipline.
If the case comes before her again, Judge Manglona said she will reconsider whether it is still proper for her to stay on the case in light of any new facts developed in the course of the appeal.
Woodruff cited Judge Manglona’s order in the lawsuit against the federalization law, in which she dismissed the case, characterizing the amended complaint as an “unanswerable mess.” Woodruff handled that case.
According to Woodruff, the Commonwealth prosecutor repeatedly referred to this order in an attempt to improperly influence Judge Manglona’s husband, Justice Manglona, in the CNMI Supreme Court.
Judge Manglona pointed out that the negative opinion of Woodruff’s performance in that lawsuit was formed on the basis of facts and events within the proceedings and does not display a personal, deep-seated antagonism toward the lawyer.
Judge Manglona also pointed out that her husband does not have a substantial interest in the outcome of Woodruff’s case and has no financial interest in it whatsoever.
“Any intangible interest in whether the district court imposes reciprocal discipline is extremely remote and speculative,” she said.
Unlike in a direct appeal, Judge Manglona said, the outcome of the district court’s reciprocal-discipline procedure will have no effect on the rulings of the Commonwealth courts.
Judge Manglona said that only the U.S. Supreme Court has subject matter jurisdiction to review a state court’s attorney disciplinary orders.
Woodruff had suggested that Judge Manglona should disqualify herself because of an appearance of partiality arising from her husband’s participation in the Commonwealth disciplinary case.
Judge Manglona said her husband was one of three justices charged with determining whether to impose an interim suspension on Woodruff pending the resolution of ethical complaints against him.
Judge Manglona said it is likely that Justice Manglona will be among the justices who will hear Woodruff’s appeal of the disbarment order.
Judge Manglona said the interim order, which was authored by CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro Castro, was in the nature of a preliminary injunction.
The CNMI Supreme Court, she said, did not find Woodruff of having committed ethical violations, but determined only that there was a substantial likelihood such violations would be proved.
Meanwhile, in a separate order, Judge Manglona warned Woodruff that any further disobedience or resistance to the court’s order may subject him to prosecution for criminal contempt, as well as be subject to disciplinary action.