Bellas to handle Torres suit


Timothy Bellas

The NMI Supreme Court has appointed former Superior Court associate judge Timothy Bellas to hear the lawsuit filed by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres against the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee over its decision to hold him in contempt.

After all five CNMI Superior Court judges recused themselves last Tuesday from handling the lawsuit, Supreme Court Chief Justice Alexandro Castro issued an order appointing Bellas to serve in the matter pro tempore, or for the time being.

“Timothy H. Bellas, former associate judge of the Commonwealth Superior Court, is hereby designated and appointed to serve as judge pro tempore in this matter,” Castro said in his order.

He also ordered that if any of the parties oppose the appointment, they must notify the Clerk of the Superior Court in writing no later than 10 days from the date of the order of any good cause or reason why Bellas should not serve the role.

“Unless good cause be shown otherwise, Judge Pro Tempore Timothy H. Bellas shall have full authority to serve in this matter and shall carry out the duties and powers inherent with the appointment,” Castro stated.

Bellas has served as a justice and judge pro tem of both the CNMI Supreme and Superior Court since 2002.

Castro explained in his order that after Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja informed the court that the sitting judges in the Superior Court have recused themselves from the matter, under the authority of Article IV, Section 9d) of the NMI Constitution and in furtherance of the prompt and efficient dispatch of court business, the chief justice may designate a judge pro tempore as necessary.

In a statement from Patrick Diaz, Clerk of the Superior Court, he explained that court procedure in matters where all sitting judges recuse themselves from a case, the presiding judge would request the high court to appoint a judge for the time being.

“When all the judges recuse from a case, the presiding judge would request from the chief justice for the appointment of judge pro tempore. In this case, a request was sent to Chief Justice Castro yesterday and on the same day he appointed former judge Bellas the judge pro tempore,” he said.

Last Tuesday, Naraja and associate judges Wesley Bogdan, Kenneth Govendo, Joseph Camacho, and Teresa Kim-Tenorio recused themselves from hearing Torres’ lawsuit.

In his order for recusal, Bogdan stated that hearing the case would be a conflict of interest as he served as the former legal counsel to Torres.

According to Govendo, he recused himself and returned the case for reassignment because he talked with Torres over two weeks ago at a birthday party about testifying in front of the JGO committee.

Kim-Tenorio stated that she chose to recuse herself because her spouse is the director of the Legislative Bureau, appointed by the leadership of both Houses, which includes members of the JGO Committee who are defendants in the Torres lawsuit.

Furthermore, the co-defendant in the case, sergeant-at-arms Peter Towai, is employed by the Legislative Bureau, making Kim-Tenorio’s spouse the hiring authority.

Naraja and Camacho both cited Commonwealth law 1 CMC § 3308 stating that they must recuse themselves due to a conflict of interest.

According to Saipan Tribune archives, Bellas has been president of the CNMI Bar Association and chaired the CNMI Bar Association Disciplinary Committee for more than 10 years.

He was an assistant attorney general, registrar at the Registrar of Corporations, deputy legal counsel for the 4th House of Representatives, and the first chief legal counsel of the Legislative Bureau.

Bellas also worked for the U.S. Department of Justice as a staff attorney for the U.S. Trustee’ Office for Guam and the CNMI.

He chaired the Garment Oversight Board from 2003 to 2008.

Kimberly Bautista Esmores | Reporter
Kimberly Bautista Esmores has covered a wide range of news beats, including the community, housing, crime, and more. She now covers sports for the Saipan Tribune. Contact her at
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