Ex-governor told to appear in Superior Court on April 30
Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman quashed yesterday the arrest warrant he issued against former governor Benigno R. Fitial and directed him to voluntarily appear in Superior Court on April 30, 2014, at 1:30pm.
Wiseman said that if the former governor fails to appear at the April 30 hearing due to his ongoing medical treatment, he will be required to justify any absences on that date.
The requirements include a notice explaining why he is unable to appear, a doctor’s note signed in presence of a notary public, and the notarization itself authenticated by the U.S. Embassy. Only then will Wiseman consider excusing any ordered appearance to be replaced by another date.
Fitial is facing criminal charges for allegedly shielding former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham from being served with penal summons last year.
Wiseman said there is no need to set pretrial release conditions or bail conditions at this time. He said he will set the conditions when Fitial gets here.
Attorney Stephen Nutting appeared at the hearing as counsel for Fitial. Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel/assistant attorney general George L. Hasselback appeared for the government.
The hearing lasted only a few minutes as Hasselback did not object to Nutting’s motions.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Nutting said they expect Fitial to return to Saipan in the last week of April 2014, right before his initial appearance or arraignment.
“The judge is very neutral. He imposed very reasonable conditions,” Nutting said.
Nutting said he just talked on the phone with Fitial yesterday morning and that the former governor is doing well.
“He’s still having problems. I guess the rehabilitation treatment he is undergoing right now is very, very intensive,” the lawyer said.
Nutting said that Fitial has a neurological condition and the doctor is trying to bring back his mobility to improve his balance so he can walk on his own without a cane.
Hasselback told reporters that when Fitial is back on island, the judge will then assess whether or not the court will allow pretrial release, just like any other criminal case.
Hasselback said that Wiseman has indicated he will impose pretrial release conditions.
The OPA legal counsel admitted that they have yet to file formal charges against Fitial but added that they will file them pretty soon.
“The goal has been is and has always been to return a criminal defendant to the Commonwealth and have that person face the charges here in Superior Court,” Hasselback said.
That goal, he said, has been accomplished, with no expenses to the Commonwealth.
As to the question whether Jermaine Joseph Wabol Nekaifes will testify for the government against Fitial, Hasselback said the granting of immunity for Nekaifes is conditioned upon the latter’s cooperation with the Commonwealth in testifying against Buckingham and other co-defendants.
Nekaifes is a former police captain who used to serve as an escort/driver of then-governor Fitial. In exchange for his testimony, OPA moved to dismiss the charges against Nekaifes without prejudice.
The court recently granted OPA’s request to dismiss the case against Nekaifes.
In a declaration he filed through Nutting, Fitial says he wants to return to the CNMI to face the criminal charges filed against him, adding that he has no desire to become a fugitive.
Fitial resigned as governor on Feb. 21, 2013. He and his wife Josie then left the CNMI.
In March 2013, OPA filed seven criminal charges against Fitial for his role in allegedly shielding Buckingham from being served with penal summons in August 2012.
Last Feb. 19, Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo found Buckingham guilty of all public corruption charges except one and sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison, all suspended.