Finding interpreter not the job of OPD—defense lawyer


The Office of the Public Defender, on behalf of a defendant facing murder charges, is questioning the Superior Court’s act requiring the OPD to provide a Tagalog interpreter.

Assistant public defender Heather M. Zona, counsel for Alfonso Parongan, asserted that assigning OPD the task of finding interpreters violates both Commonwealth law and Parongan’s constitutional and civil rights.

Assigning this task to OPD violates the separation of powers doctrine, said Zona in Parongan’s motion filed Wednesday for the Superior Court to provide and pay for a Tagalog interpreter.

Parongan’s trial will start next month.

Zona said Parongan requires the use of a Tagalog interpreter for court proceedings, including trial, as well as meetings where Parongan is required or expected to attend.

OPD had asked the court to appoint a Tagalog interpreter so that, among other things, Parongan may participate in his own defense and know what is going on in his case.

Instead, the Superior Court instructed OPD to “contact the interpreter.”

Heather M. Zona

Zona said that when OPD first asked the Superior Court for its list of court interpreters, a court staff advised that it could not provide the list because the information is “confidential.”

And because the court does not wish to provide the list of qualified translators to OPD, the court has placed on OPD the task of identifying and providing interpreters, which is outside the agency’s mandate, Zona said.

She said OPD lacks the resources and ability to determine whether particular individuals are qualified interpreters, or to compel such individuals to appear for court dates or meetings.

“Such responsibilities already have been assumed by the Superior Court pursuant to its obligations under Title VI, among other laws,” the defense counsel said.

She pointed out that Commonwealth Rules of Practice require the court to provide and pay for an interpreter for Parongan. “Criminal defendants with limited English proficiency have a constitutional right to interpretation,” she said.

Zona noted that the court created a list of court interpreters, which was last updated on Jan. 3, 2015.

“Over the past four years, the list has become outdated as individuals have moved off island, passed away, or only will translate for federal cases,” she said.

Zona said agencies receiving federal funding are required to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to programs, services and information to LEP and Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals.

Zona cited that in 2018, the NMI Judiciary received $906,929 grant from a Bureau of Justice Assistance grant.

She said between 2003 and 2018, the NMI received other grants from BJA in the amount of $9 million, some or all of which reflects grants to the Judiciary.

Zona said that in 2015, the Judiciary received a $54,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, consisting of a $34,000 for the purchase and retrofit of a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the Marshal Service Division and $20,000 to purchase a computer, workstations, and database server for the clerk of court’s office.

Parongan is being charged over the killing of his landlord and injuring her husband in Chalan Kanoa in 2017. He faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, and assault with a dangerous weapon.

Parongan, 56, has been in jail since he was arrested shortly after the killing that occurred in October 2017.

Through his counsel, Parongan has made a plea of not guilty for reason of insanity.

Police said during their interview, Parongan confessed to smoking drugs and being drunk on the day of the incident.

The woman suffered multiple stab wounds, while her husband sustained 12 injuries in different parts of the head and body.

The woman was reportedly trying to collect house rental from Parongan when the two got into argument in the evening of Oct. 29, 2017. He allegedly stabbed the woman and her husband with a kitchen knife.

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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