Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo dismissed yesterday two of the 12 charges filed against former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham.
Govendo dismissed with prejudice two charges of misconduct in public office after Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George L. Hasselback asked for these charges’ dismissal.
Dismissal with prejudice means the charges cannot be re-opened.
Govendo said the two charges related to a contract.
The judge set for Tuesday a hearing on Buckingham’s motion to dismiss the remaining 10 charges and a motion to suppress fruits of a search.
The bench trial will on Feb. 10. The original trial date was Feb. 3.
Hasselback made the request to dismiss the two charges after Buckingham, through counsel Richard W. Pierce, filed a motion to dismiss all 12 counts.
In the CNMI government’s reply, Hasselback opposed the motion to dismiss the 10 charges. He moved to dismiss counts 5 and 12, misconduct in public office.
With respect to the two charges, Hasselback said the government has determined after further review of the current law of the CNMI regarding the duties of the AG such as certification of the CNMI’s “capacity” to contract, that “it is in the best interest of justice” to dismiss the two counts.
Hasselback said that contrary to Buckingham’s assertion, the Commonwealth never sought to criminalize legal opinions, whether they were open to reasonable debate, patently incorrect, or somewhere in between.
On the contrary, he said the Commonwealth sought to hold a public official—in this case, the top attorney of the CNMI—criminally liable for willfully and knowingly providing legal opinions that he knew were contrary to CNMI law.
“The Commonwealth intended to prove that, despite knowing that certain contracts were contrary to CNMI law, and having been told as much by subordinate attorneys who were assigned the task of determining the legality of those contracts, the then attorney general certified that those contracts complied with all applicable CNMI laws and regulations in that the CNMI had the legal capacity to enter into those contracts,” he said.
Hasselback said having proven this, the Commonwealth intended to argue that this course of behavior violated the law and that he should be found guilty of the crime of misconduct in public office.
However, he said, after further review of the current law, the Commonwealth decided to dismiss the two charges.
OPA filed 12 criminal charges against Buckingham in connection with an alleged violation of election laws and illegal awards of a sole-source contract, among others.