The CNMI goes a step closer to once again having a woman in the Superior Court after a show of overwhelming support for Teresa Kim-Tenorio’s nomination as associate judge during a Senate panel’s well-attended public hearing on her appointment.
Among those who personally testified on Capital Hill and urged senators to confirm her were CNMI Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro Castro and Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas.
Kim-Tenorio, legal counsel for Gov. Eloy S. Inos and when he was still lieutenant governor, said she was “overwhelmed” with the show of support for her nomination.
“I really did not expect all these people that showed up today to testify on my behalf. I’m very honored and grateful. I’m glad this is over. I pray for favorable voting at the confirmation hearing, so that I can move forward,” Kim-Tenorio told reporters right after the Senate Committee on Appointments and Government Investigations wrapped up its public hearing on her nomination.
In a question-and-answer with senators, Kim-Tenorio said she has years of experience in court both at the local and federal level.
Besides court experience, also important is the understanding of the rule of law and procedures to dispense with a fair and just decision, she said.
“For a judge to serve well, not only he needs to have courtroom experience but [also] needs to understand the rule of law and he needs to understand the procedures. And believe me when you’re in the courtroom, the attorneys do help you a lot because they do the research with [their] arguments and they expect you to understand the law and to dispense with a decision fairly,” she told senators.
Besides citing the nominee’s education and experience background, Public Lands Secretary Pete A. Tenorio also spoke of Kim-Tenorio’s fluency in languages besides English and Chamorro, which he said could be a “cost-savings” to the court. The nominee is also fluent in Korean.
Attorney Viola Alepuyo, who was teary-eyed during her testimony, said Kim-Tenorio is even more local than many in the community.
Some senators also asked and addressed Kim-Tenorio in Chamorro, saying in jest it was a “test.”
In her remarks before the Senate panel, Kim-Tenorio didn’t dwell on how she will be fair and whether she meets the constitutional requirements to fill the position.
“I was nominated because I meet the constitutional requirements and being fair goes without saying. It is expected. It is part of justice. As a member of the legal community, I am aware of the importance of the judicial system and its role in society,” she told the committee.
Headed for confirmation
EAGI Committee acting chair Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) said the panel was “not given any reason to recommend to the full Senate a rejection of the nomination of Ms. Tenorio.”
“The oral and written testimony provided to us were all in favor of the nominee, and our own reviews show the nominee is qualified for the job,” Taimanao told Saipan Tribune.
Taimanao said the EAGI Committee would need days to complete its public hearings, deliberations and reports on four nominees, including that of Kim-Tenorio and Labor secretary-nominee Edith DeLeon Guerrero.
Given the work that still needs to be done, a Senate session is not likely to be held this Friday. Taimanao said it could be between Dec. 17 and Dec. 20.
Besides Taimanao, the other EAGI panel members present were Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan), Sen. Frank Borja (Ind-Tinian), and Sen. Jack Borja (Ind-Tinian).
Kim-Tenorio needs only at least five affirmative votes in the nine-member Senate to get confirmed.
Press secretary Angel Demapan, who presented Kim-Tenorio to the Senate panel on behalf of the governor and Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, said the people have an opportunity once again to diversify the perspectives of justice.
“We have an opportunity to fill a void left by the appointment of then Associate Judge Ramona Manglona to the U.S. District Court—the presence, views, and insights of a woman on the bench. As such, Governor Inos grasped the opportunity to pay proper tribute to the emerging role of women in society,” Demapan said.
He told senators that the nominee coming before them “is one that is ready to serve.”
“Along with her educational credentials, she has experience in private practice, in the legislative branch, and in the Executive Branch. For more than three decades, she lived among us. She evolved alongside our then fledgling Commonwealth. Grew up with our people. Embraced our cultures and traditions. And speaks our language, sometimes even better than some of us,” Demapan said, adding that Kim-Tenorio has become his mentor, a trusted colleague in the administration, and a family friend.
When asked later if she would recommend a replacement as the governor’s legal counsel if she gets confirmed as associate judge, Kim-Tenorio said she will, “should he ask.”
“But ultimately, of course, we know that’s his decision,” the nominee said.
Kim-Tenorio, in her prepared remarks before senators, said that having practiced as an attorney in the private sector, then in the Legislature, and finally in the Executive branch, she would bring to the Judiciary many different perspectives and experiences to make a well-rounded, fair, and impartial judge.
“In other words, I have seen and scrutinized the coin from different angles. I learned fairness and impartiality in many different arenas and in many different ways. I will protect our Constitution and ensure justice is served,” she said.
She touched on two aspects: what she will bring to the Judiciary as a woman and as a member of this community.
“With so much pride and honor, I have been a part of this community for 36 of the 39 years of my life. This is my home, the only home I know. It is my children’s home, and the home of my future grandchildren. I have an interest in
seeing that our Commonwealth continues flourishing, continues being the safe place that it is, and preserves the rich culture I’ve embraced that has become my own. I can help do that as a judge. I promise I will work diligently. And I promise to do so, because I believe in the system and I love the law,” she added.
Chief Justice Alexandro Castro, in his written testimony, said he had the privilege of working with Kim-Tenorio in her capacity as a trustee for the Northern Marianas Judiciary Historical Society, as well as in her capacity as legal counsel to the governor.
“As a trustee, she carries out her duties with the utmost professionalism, attention to detail, and diligence. She always carefully reviews and considers all matters brought to her attention,” Castro said.
He added that the nominee always exhibits respect, fairness, and legal acumen in her dealings with the Judiciary.
Besides the chief justice, the attorney general, Tenorio, and Alepuyo, the others who testified in support of Kim-Tenorio’s nominations were the governor’s special assistant for administration Esther Fleming, former Public Lands secretary and former speaker Oscar M. Babauta, Public Safety Commissioner James Deleon Guerrero, acting Labor secretary Edith DeLeon Guerrero, attorney Mike Ernest, and attorney Janet King.
Kim-Tenorio, a juris doctorate graduate of New England School of Law in Boston, received her certification under the CNMI Bar in May 2004 and the Michigan Bar in 2002.
Besides her work in the Executive Branch, Kim-Tenorio previously worked as an attorney for the Law Office of G. Anthony Long and as legal counsel to the CNMI House of Representatives.
During her time as legal counsel to the lieutenant governor, Kim-Tenorio also served as a hearing officer for administrative cases brought before the CNMI Department of Labor.
Kim-Tenorio is married to Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Perry Tenorio, who was present at the public hearing yesterday, along with the nominee’s parents, Yong Chan Kim and Jin Soon Kim, other relatives, colleagues, and supporters.
The NMI Bar Association gave Kim-Tenorio a rating of 3 for experience; 3.63 for integrity; 3.48 for professional competence; 3.41 for judicial temperament; and 3.81 for service to the law and contribution to the effective administration of justice.