Despite strong opposition by the Office of the Public Auditor and the lawyer of former Commonwealth Ports Authority police chief Jordan Kosam, Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo allowed former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham to call Kosam to the witness stand on Friday.
After placing the matter under advisement twice, Govendo ruled that he is going to allow Kosam to testify and that any information generated in his testimony cannot be used in his pending criminal case.
Govendo, who is presiding over the bench trial of Buckingham, ruled that Kosam should proceed with his testimony unless the CNMI Supreme Court orders the trial court not to do so.
Govendo then instructed the media and the public to leave the courtroom.
Kosam completed his testimony late Friday afternoon, Saipan Tribune learned.
Before the sealed hearing, attorney Richard Pierce, counsel for Buckingham, called Kosam to the witness stand.
Kosam talked about his background and admitted that he was at the Saipan International Airport when Buckingham and his wife came in the early morning of Aug. 4, 2012.
Pierce asked Kosam if he had a desire at the time in assisting to block someone from serving a penal summons upon Buckingham.
Attorney Joaquin Torres, counsel for Kosam, stood up and invoked his client’s right to remain silent as his statement might incriminate him in his pending criminal case.
Pierce explained that Kosam’s testimony is material to his client, Buckingham.
Govendo said it is not the court’s role to grant or not to grant immunity to Kosam for testifying.
Govendo asked Torres if he objects to the playing of a video regarding Kosam’s testimony at the impeachment proceedings of then-governor Benigno R. Fitial.
Torres said he definitely objects as this will prejudice Kosam.
“I haven’t seen the video!” Torres added.
Hasselback, who also opposed allowing Kosam to testify, said this is unprecedented in the CNMI as there was never an impeachment proceeding before.
Govendo called for a recess and when the hearing resumed, he announced that he will allow Kosam to testify.
Hasselback urged Govendo to reconsider as he believes it will have far-reaching implications.
Govendo said this is not immunity but simply means that whatever Kosam says in court cannot be used against him in subsequent proceedings.
Torres asked if the court will allow playing the video. Govendo said he will allow Kosam to testify without the video, but that it cannot be used against him in his criminal case.
Torres said it is scary because OPA is the government in this case and if Hasselback is allowed to sit in court, he believes that compelling Kosam to testify is a violation of Kosam’s constitutional rights.
Govendo then announced that he will place the matter under advisement.
After a few minutes, Govendo announced that he stands pat in his decision to allow Kosam to testify.
Kosam, Fitial, former police captain Jermaine Joseph Wabol Nekaifes, former Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro, and several others are among those charged by OPA of alleged conspiracy to shield Buckingham from being served with the penal summons.
Before Kosam, Pierce called two character witnesses: Patrick Ahlstrom and Craig Truman, who both testified telephonically.
Ahlstrom is a former Colorado Department of Public Safety executive director and a former area director at the Transportation Security Administration. He used to work with Buckingham at Colorado DPS.
Truman is a defense lawyer in Colorado.
Ahlstrom and Truman vouched for Buckingham’s professionalism and integrity, among other things.
Buckingham’s bench trial will continue tomorrow, Tuesday, at 9am.