The CNMI Supreme Court has stopped the Superior Court proceedings in the case against former Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio T. Ogumoro until the resolution of his petition before the appellate court.
Associate Justice John A. Manglona said Ogumoro’s petition raises a serious question: Whether a judge must recuse from a trial after making a probable cause determination.
“Additionally, the balance of hardships tip sharply in favor of the moving party: the parties are at risk of expending significant amounts of time and money to go through two trials if a stay is not granted,” said Manglona in a one-page order issued Monday.
The Office of the Public Auditor charged Ogumoro with 15 criminal charges for his role in, among other things, shielding then-attorney general Edward Buckingham from being served with penal summons in August 2012.
The jury trial of Ogumoro and his co-defendants, former Commonwealth Ports Authority police chief Jordan L. Kosam and former CPA police captain John T. Rebuenog, was supposed to start on Monday.
Ogumoro has filed a petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition that questions, among other things, Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman’s authority to preside over the trial since he already made a probable cause determination in the case.
Last Nov. 13, Ogumoro and the government filed a joint motion asking the CNMI Supreme Court to suspend the Superior Court proceedings while Ogumoro’s petition is pending.
In his order, Manglona said a stay is warranted if the moving party shows that a combination of probable success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury, or serious questions are raised and the balance of hardship tips sharply in favor of the moving party.
Manglona said the joint motion satisfies the second option.
Last Nov. 7, Wiseman declined to dismiss the criminal charges against Ogumoro and Kosam, saying the two patently ignore the crucial fact that the court exercised its inherent authority to appoint a special prosecutor to handle this case, and as such, each and every ground they cited for dismissal is without legal or factual merit.
Wiseman found their arguments to be meritless, incredulous, and nearly sanctionable.
Aside from Ogumoro, Kosam, and Rebuenog, OPA also filed criminal charges against former governor Benigno Fitial and Fitial’s former personal driver and bodyguard, Jermaine Joseph W. Nekaifes, for their participation in shielding Buckingham from being served with penal summons.
Superior Court Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo has already dismissed the case against Nekaifes. Wiseman recently dismissed the charges against Fitial.
Last Feb. 19, Govendo found Buckingham guilty of all public corruption charges except one and sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison, all suspended. Govendo recused from presiding over the cases against the remaining defendants.