Babauta seeks NMI Bar probe, sanction vs Torres’ 2 counsels

Birnbrich says he has a duty to represent, defend Office of the Governor lawfully and ethically

Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) has urged the NMI Bar Association to investigate and sanction the two lawyers of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for alleged professional misconduct and raising false allegations against her.

At the House’s session last Wednesday, Babauta said the NMI Bar Association should investigate and possibly disbar Richard Miller, who is from a law firm representing Torres in the impeachment matter, and Gilbert Birnbrich, who is counsel for the Office of the Governor.

Birnbrich said yesterday that, as a lawyer, he has a duty to represent and defend his client lawfully and ethically. “This I have done and will continue to do so as long as I am the attorney for the Office of the Governor,” he said.

He said Babauta is within her rights if she wants to file an ethics complaint against him. “If she does, I have complete confidence in the fairness and professionalism of the attorney disciplinary process,” Birnbrich said.

As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still waiting for comments from Miller.

Babauta, who chairs the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee of the House of Representatives, said the Office of the Governor issued a press release last Jan. 7 that basically indicated that she, as JGO chairwoman, published untrue statements that amounted to distortion and misrepresentations of statements made by Torres.

She said in that publication, the governor’s in-house legal counsel, Birnbrich, essentially implies that she had placed a partisan spin on matters related to the dispute relating to the JGO’s investigation into Torres’ expenditures of public funds and travels.

Babauta read into the record the alleged inappropriate ex parte emails that were sent and received by Miller to the CNMI Supreme Court on Dec. 29, 2021, at 4:25pm. Ex parte refers to a court action by one of the parties without the other party being present/heard.

She said Miller emailed Nora Borja, the deputy clerk of the CNMI Supreme Court, that Torres is requesting a chamber’s conference with Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro “sometime tomorrow, or prior to the expiration of the deadline” regarding the appointment of former judge Timothy Bellas to preside over Torres’ lawsuit in Superior Court.

From this email, Babauta pointed out, there can be no doubt that Torres wanted a face to face meeting with Castro to discuss the selection of Bellas, who will preside over his lawsuit against the JGO. “It’s right here in black and white. Gov. Torres is requesting a chamber’s conference with Chief Justice regarding Judge Bellas’ appointment sometime tomorrow prior to the expiration of the deadline,” Babauta said.

In a press statement posted last Jan. 7, Birnbrich denied a press release that Babauta issued, where she stated that Torres “attempted to manipulate the Judicial Branch by requesting a closed-door meeting between himself and the chief justice.”

Birnbrich said this is not true as Torres did not seek a personal meeting with the chief justice and that Torres’ counsel requested a conference to seek clarification, among other things, of the chief justice’s order to notify the clerk of court of any “good cause or reason” why Bellas should not sit on the case.

Babauta said this attempt to meet with Castro in chamber off the record is inappropriate and highly unethical. She said it undermines the integrity of the legal process that the governor initiated when he filed the lawsuit against the JGO.

“If it was an actual attempt to meet ex parte, it is sanctionable conduct and Mr. Miller should face serious consequences to include possible disbarment if it is determined that his ex parte email communication, which was clearly and beyond dispute professional misconduct was intended to set up an ex parte meeting in chambers with [the] chief justice,” Babauta said.

She said Castro properly declined, which was clearly communicated in a reply from Borja in her response the following morning on Dec. 30, at 8:35am. Babauta said Borja told Miller in the email that Castro has seen his message and that he will not meet with his client concerning this matter.

Borja stated that the order is clear that any concerns about the appointment of Bellas as judge pro tempore may be made in writing and sent to the clerk of the Superior Court.

Borja said it appears that this email was not served on the opposing side.

“Please serve the opposing party the email if you have not already done so,” Borja said.

Babauta said despite instructions from the court to send the emails to the opposing party at 8:35 that morning on Dec. 30, Miller did not the send the email to the JGO until 4:15pm on the same day.

She said it took Miller seven hours and 40 minutes to comply with instructions from the Supreme Court.

Moreover, Babauta said, during this seven-hour time period between receiving directions from the court and his sharing of the correspondence with the JGO, Miller drafted an email and sent to the Superior Court clerk Patrick Diaz, which was received at 3:45pm on Dec. 30.

“The circumstances of this letter appear to be very suspicious,” Babauta.

She said it is reasonable to question whether this letter was drafted during these seven hours back to coverup the unethical and irresponsible nature of the ex parte email communication and the requested ex parte meeting.

The lawmaker said she feels that the NMI Bar Association should investigate whether Miller should be sanctioned for his professional misconduct.

“This behavior is indicative of the backdoor and underhanded tactics by Gov. Torres and his charlatans that we have seen in the past and are trying to avoid,” Babauta said.

With respect to Birnbrich, she said he not only denied the governor’s attempt to meet with chief justice but he completely and conveniently left out the ex parte communication from his co-counsel to the chief justice.

“It is clear that Mr. Birnbrich has masqueraded the facts to fit their narrative. And Mr. Birnbrich owes me an apology for his attempt to besmirch my reputation,” Babauta said.

The JGO chair said she will be officially requesting the NMI Bar Association to investigate and determine if Birnbrich should be sanctioned and disciplined for making false allegations her as JGO chairwoman.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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