Attorney general-public auditor row turns ugly

Posted on Dec 30 2011
By Haidee V. Eugenio

This year saw Attorney General Edward Buckingham and Public Auditor Michael Pai in a very public spat over a host of issues that many believe started when the Office of the Public Auditor investigated Buckingham’s campaign-related activities in 2010.

In June, Buckingham filed a lawsuit against Pai over OPA’s hiring of two lawyers.

Pai described the AG’s complaint as “the latest of what appears to be a series of attempts by the AG to disrupt OPA’s access to legal counsel and to challenge its autonomy.”

One of the lawyers, Joseph John Przyuski, was the lead OPA investigator in the complaints filed against Buckingham related to his alleged hosting of a gathering for the campaign of then Covenant Party delegate candidate Joseph Camacho, now a Superior Court judge.

Buckingham fired back at Pai, saying it’s his duty and responsibility as attorney general to ensure that public funds are not wasted, for OPA to comply with hiring rules, and not a way to get back at the latter over OPA’s investigation into the AG’s campaign-related activities.

A month later, Buckingham accused Pai of leaking an Inspector General investigation on the Fitial administration’s $392,406 sole-source contract with former Commerce secretary Michael Ada’s firm to manage ARRA funds.

Pai belied Buckingham’s accusation. He said OPA didn’t have a hand in leaking the IG’s report on the privatization of CNMI ARRA funds to the media. In fact, a redacted copy of the IG report can be accessed through the Interior’s website.

In October, a copy of OPA’s 2010 investigation report on the AG was leaked to the media and certain members of the community.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial suppressed the public release of that OPA report dated December 2010.

The leaked OPA report concluded that Buckingham’s actions “violated criminal prohibitions” of both the Commonwealth Ethics Code Act and the Commonwealth Election Act when he hosted a campaign party for delegate candidate.

Buckingham denied hosting a political gathering, using his official position to endorse any candidate, and directing anyone to vote for any person. He said the papers that may have been leaked were not official and questionable.

On the heels of the release of the leaked report, Buckingham’s office filed a criminal case against the public auditor’s wife, Joanna, for allegedly stealing utility services amounting to over $51,000.

The governor, in interviews with reporters, had always defended Buckingham, saying the AG did not violate any law related to the 2010 elections.

But critics said if the AG did not do anything wrong, he or the governor should release the OPA report.

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.