A federal public defender asked U.S. District Court for the District of Guam Chief Judge Frances Marie Tydingo-Gatewood yesterday to ban U.S. Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the NMI Shawn N. Anderson and his staff from the federal courthouse indefinitely until they have undergone the recommended quarantine period.
Alternatively, federal public defender for the District of Guam John T. Gorman and his staff will not appear in the same courtroom with any U.S. Attorney or their staff, until they have undergone quarantine, Gorman said in an email to Tydingco-Gatewood.
“I have an obligation to protect my staff and myself,” said Gorman, adding that he is confident that Criminal Justices Act panel attorneys will have the same position.
In response, Anderson said there is no legal or medical basis to quarantine him and the entire staff as no U.S. Attorney’s Office employee has had personal contact with him since his return to Guam.
Anderson reiterated that he did not travel to any high-risk country as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor does he have any symptoms of COVID-19.
Anderson did not indicate which country he went to.
He said their office has taken precautionary measures since the outbreak in Guam began. “We even extended these measures to our Saipan office out of an abundance of caution,” he said, adding that their office, as well as the entire Department of Justice, takes the health of their employees seriously.
He said most of their employees are now teleworking from diverse locations on island.
However, Anderson said, they still need to travel to court and their offices when necessary to fulfill their mission.
While the resources of the federal government are currently drained, he said the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to assist law enforcement with investigations and pursue prosecutions in federal courts.
Anderson said they will prioritize cases based on their current resources, in addition to the need of citizens and any threats to national security.
Anderson said the federal courts in Guam and in the CNMI have issued orders regulating entry to their facilities due to the outbreak. “We will work within the terms of these orders and with our justice partners, including defense counsel, to ensure that the federal justice system continues to function for the safety and welfare of our communities,” he said.
Gorman said the U.S. Attorneys staff can make their appearances through video conferencing from their office.
The federal public defender said he realizes that banning is a strong measure, “but is unfortunately warranted.” Gorman said he has been troubled in the past two weeks with the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s “cavalier attitude” toward the current coronavirus pandemic and national public health emergency. “Their recent actions over the weekend are even more disturbing,” he said.
Gorman recalled that he wrote Tydingco-Gatewood last March 12, urging the court to take immediate and reasonable steps to deal with the coronavirus crisis. Gorman said he was shocked when the official response of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was that it was “business as usual” and no protective or proactive measures were needed. Therefore, he said, he was not totally surprised when he was informed that, upon Anderson’s return from vacation, reportedly in Thailand, he refused lawful orders to be self-quarantined.
He noted that Thailand is a regional coronavirus hot spot, with their case count at 600 and increasing exponentially.
Gorman said Anderson has by now, gone into the U.S. Attorney’s office and/or met with various U.S. Attorney’s staff. “He has willfully broken the quarantine and potentially infected the entire office,” Gorman said.
The U.S. Attorney, he said, foolishly believes that reasonable and responsible public safety laws and regulations do not apply to him or his staff. “He is wrong. If anything, as the highest ranking federal law enforcement official in Guam, he should know that he is not above the law,” Gorman said.
The federal public defender said Anderson’s “dangerous and irresponsible” actions also now endanger the health and safety of his clients, Tydingco-Gatewood, and the federal courthouse staff, Criminal Justices Act attorneys, himself (Gorman), his staff, and the public.
Banning them, he said, “is the only reasonable solution to protect all of us.”
Last Saturday, Guam Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero demanded Anderson’s removal from office for allegedly not complying with quarantine requirements during Guam’s public health emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In her letter to U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr, Leon Guerrero said Anderson apparently could not comprehend the severity of the COVID-19 issue in Guam. Leon Guerrero said she was forced to take precious time and resources away from the response efforts to deal with Anderson’s unacceptable behavior, which she described as arrogant and disrespectful.
The governor said Anderson’s decision to challenge her executive orders created an atmosphere of noncompliance and threatens the local government’s ability to respond to this public health emergency.