Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig went to the U.S. Probation Office yesterday afternoon with temporary lawyer, Bruce Berline, to determine if he qualifies for a court-appointed counsel.
Atalig, 57, refused to comment upon his counsel’s advice when he emerged from the Horiguchi Building in Garapan after the meeting.
In an interview with Saipan Tribune, Berline, the court-appointed counsel for preliminary matters, said that yesterday’s meeting was meant to determine if Atalig qualifies for a court-appointed counsel to represent him in the case.
U.S. District Court for the NMI Magistrate Judge Heather L. Kennedy appointed Berline yesterday to represent the 57-year-old mayor in the case for preliminary matters, including the initial appearance.
In issuing the summons against Atalig, U.S. District Court for the NMI designated Judge David O. Carter directed the mayor to appear in court for an initial appearance today, Wednesday, at 1:30pm.
Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Haejun Park served Atalig with the summons at the Rota Mayor’s Office last Friday.
Berline said that today’s hearing is just for Atalig’s initial appearance but most likely also for his arraignment.
“Right now I’m appointed by the court to represent him so we might be moving straight to arraignment and the judge will make the determination,” the lawyer said.
Berline said he does not expect the U.S. government to move to detain Atalig.
The indictment charged Atalig with one count of wire fraud.
A federal grand jury had indicted the mayor after he allegedly arranged a government-funded trip from Rota to Guam for himself and 12 others, including eight municipal employees, on a false claim that he was going to check for surplus equipment at the Naval Base in Guam. According to the allegation, he actually went there to participate in a political rally of the GOP last June 23 in Mangilao.
Last Friday, the Office of the Attorney General filed an information charging Atalig and seven other
Rota municipal officials each with theft and misconduct in public office arising from the same political rally. The defendants will be arraigned at the Superior Court on Sept. 28.