IN CRIMINAL CASE FILED BY OAG VS TORRES
In response to the Office of the Attorney General’s recent notice to the Superior Court of a potential conflict of interest in Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ attorneys, Viola Alepuyo and Anthony Aguon, Torres’ defense says disqualifying his lawyers would impose an “undue hardship and prejudice” on the governor.
According to the opposition filed by one of Torres’ attorneys, Matthew Holley, he argues that Commonwealth law specifically does not allow for the disqualification of one’s counsel if it would cause undue hardship and prejudice.
“Pursuant to Commonwealth law, disqualification sought by a non-client litigant will not be granted if doing so will impose an undue hardship on the attorney’s client. Disqualification would cause undue hardship and prejudice to the defense of this criminal prosecution brought by his attorneys,” Holley stated.
Holley explains that disqualifying Alepuyo and Aguon would deprive Torres of his Sixth Amendment right to choose his own counsel. In this case, Torres has to exercise this constitutional right to a counsel of his choice as he is being prosecuted by his own legal counsel, the OAG.
However, because the motion to disqualify does not comply with the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the CNMI rules of criminal procedure, Holley further argues that the motion should be dismissed in its entirety.
“Our Supreme Court has repeatedly held that prosecuting attorneys are ‘servants of the law… [who] must serve truth and justice first and foremost.’ The OAG’s effort to deprive Gov. Torres of his Sixth Amendment rights without complying with the MRPC, the Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the Rules of Practice demonstrates that the OAG is not applying this principle in the prosecution of its client. The abandonment of this guiding principle, standing alone, warrants dismissing or denying the ‘motion.’” Holley said.
In addition to the OAG’s alleged non-compliance with the MRPC, CNMI rules of procedure, and the CNMI rules of practice, the deficiencies associated with the motion also warrants dismissal, he said.
“The procedural and substantive deficiencies associated with the ‘motion’ to disqualify justifies dismissing or denying the OAG’s effort to deprive its client of his Sixth Amendment rights,” he said.
The OAG filed its criminal case against Torres on April 8. All judges of the Superior Court have recused themselves from the matter and by order dated April 12, 2022, the Supreme Court appointed Judge Tolentino of Guam as judge pro tem to preside.
At the April 28 arraignment, Alepuyo and Aguon informed the court and the OAG that they planned on filing a motion to disqualify the OAG based on conflict of interests as the OAG was and still is the governor’s legal counsel. They also requested the court to set a briefing schedule and date for an evidentiary hearing.
Between the April 13, filing of the Entry of Appearance and May 2, 2022, the OAG allegedly did not raise or mention any issue relating to a potential conflict of interest of Alepuyo and Aguon.
However, on the morning of May 2, the due date for Gov. Torres’ disqualification motion, the OAG filed a Notice of Potential Conflict of Interest, alleging a violation of concurrent conflict of interest in violation of MRPC Rule 1.7.
In an order dated May 3, the vourt announced that it regards the Commonwealth’s notice as a motion.