Rep. Celina Babauta (D-Saipan) is urging the CNMI Bar Association to investigate Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ lawyer, Viola Alepuyo, and to take disciplinary actions against her, including suspending her license to practice law.
In a letter addressed to NMI Bar Association president Charity Hodson yesterday, Babauta said she is lodging an official complaint against Alepuyo for allegedly engaging in “highly questionable” behavior.
“I am writing to lodge an official complaint against…Ms. Viola Alepuyo in my capacity as chair of the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee for the 22nd Northern Mariana Islands House of Representatives,” states part of Babauta’s letter.
According to the letter, the JGO committee investigated Torres’ expenditure of public funds in June 2021, during which Alepuyo represented the Office of the Governor and a few of its key employees. Following the JGO investigation, the CNMI House of Representatives impeached Torres on Jan. 12, 2022, and transmitted the matter to the Senate for trial. At the Senate, Alepuyo continued her legal representation of the governor in his personal capacity, even appearing on Torres’ behalf during a forum on March 8, 2022.
On March 18, Sen. Karl King-Nabors (R-Tinian) who served as Senate presiding officer of the impeachment matters at the time, wrote Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) disclosing that Alepuyo is his “close family friend.” Babauta noted that this close relationship was not disclosed when King-Nabors served as chairman of the Senate committee that drafted the Senate Impeachment rules.
Babauta also alleges that Alepuyo may have worked with special counsel Joey McDoulett on the drafting of the Senate rules.a Babauta
“In view of these relationships with Gov. Torres and Sen. Nabors, Alepuyo committed egregious violations of the Model Code of Professional Conduct on Feb. 13, 2022. First, as an attorney that has represented the Office of the Governor and its employees, she engaged in ex parte communications with the Senate and possibly its designated special counsel Joey McDoulett with respect to the drafting and promulgation of the Senate impeachment rules. This legal assistance, where she drafted the substantive and procedural rules for her client, was totally one-sided and ex parte,” Babauta stated.
Babauta said that Alepuyo knew or should have known that ex parte contact with the Senate presiding officer, regardless of when the Senate rules were actually adopted, was ethically prohibited.
Babauta also alleged that Alepuyo violated Model Rule 1.7(a)(2) by providing legal assistance to King-Nabors.
“It is not unreasonable to consider that an attorney-client relationship existed between the presiding officer and Alepuyo. She then failed to disclose the existence of this attorney-client relationship with the presiding officer to anyone, including Gov. Torres. Sen. [King-Nabors] has publicly claimed that there were no official rules governing ex-parte contacts until the official rules…were adopted. However, at best, this preexisting attorney-client relationship should have materially limited her ability to represent Gov. Torres at the time she entered her formal appearance on behalf of Gov. Torres on March 8, 2022,” she stated.