Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo said there is a potential appearance of his bias against the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. due to his family’s water billing dispute with CUC.
In his written recusal order last week, Govendo said he does not want to sit in judgment now that CUC counsel James S. Sirok has just brought the billing dispute to his attention.
Govendo recused himself from the lawsuit filed by Conrad M. Sablan pursuant to the Code of Judicial Conduct from the Commonwealth Judiciary under Canon 3(c)(a), which mandates that “a judge disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Sablan is suing CUC and the CNMI government for allegedly putting up a water tank and fences on his land in Rafugao without compensating him.
At the scheduled bench trial in Sablan’s case last Wednesday, Sirok informed Govendo during a closed hearing that he had just learned of the billing dispute between the judge’s family and CUC.
Sirok also requested the recusal based on the statements that Govendo made in his order denying the CNMI government’s motion for summary judgment, which, in turn, have been reported in local newspapers.
In granting the motion for his recusal, Govendo said the billing dispute was years old and filed under his wife’s name.
Govendo said Sirok informed him that CUC had reached a decision adverse to his (Govendo) family regarding the dispute.
With Govendo’s recusal, the scheduled bench trial did not push through. The case was transferred to Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja, who will designate a new judge for the case.
Sirok also cited that Govendo personally became involved in a billing dispute with CUC, which is ongoing.
Saipan Tribune published that day, Wednesday, Govendo’s statement in the summary judgment issue in which he stated that CUC’s careless disregard for landowners’ rights “is shocking and offends the rights of Northern Marianas people.”
Govendo stated that the CNMI has made a habit of taking land from people and attempting to refuse to pay these people just compensation.
In some areas, the judge said, the CNMI “simply stalls for years, dragging its feet before paying it.”
Sablan, through counsel Brien Sers Nicholas, is suing CUC for trespassing and against CUC and the CNMI for taking his property without just compensation.
Sablan found out in 2013 that CUC had built a water tank, commonly referred to as the Maui IV Water Tank, on his land. The tank was built in March 1992.
Sablan further discovered that CUC also built wire fences that prevent him from being able to access his other property in the same area.