U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona declined Monday to recuse herself from presiding over the corruption case against Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig and his girlfriend, Evelyn Atalig.
Manglona heard the motion Monday afternoon after the Ataligs sent Friday a sealed letter asking her to recuse from the case.
It was revealed at last week’s hearing that Sharon Manglona is a possible material witness for the defense. Sharon Manglona is the wife of the brother of Justice John A. Manglona, who is the husband of Judge Ramona Manglona.
Judge Manglona cited, among other things, the timing of the motion as it’s close to the trial date of March 10, 2020. She also disagreed with the defense that Sharon Manglona is a possible material witness.
When Saipan Tribune left the courtroom Monday late afternoon, David G. Banes, counsel for Efraim Atalig, and assistant U.S. attorney Eric O’Malley were still arguing the defendants’ motion to compel the U.S. government to grant use immunity to certain defense witnesses.
O’Malley opposed the two motions.
Sharon Manglona transmitted documents for the Rota Mayor’s Office to the Department of Finance on Saipan.
Judge Manglona last week informed the parties about Sharon Manglona as a witness after reviewing documents submitted to the court.
On the motion to recuse, Banes argued that it’s not personal bias, but it’s just public perception as Judge Manglona’s impartiality is in question.
Banes said that, based on the first interview with their investigator, Sharon Manglona is a very significant witness or a material witness.
O’Malley said his understanding is that Sharon Manglona was not responsible for anything.
Banes disagreed with O’Malley that there was a “rubber stamp process,” which is why they want to put Sharon Manglona on the witness stand.
“This is a key issue for us,” Banes said.
Banes said they need Sharon Manglona to testify and let the prosecution prove facts as they will also prove the defense’s.
Banes said they will contest the government’s version that the travel authorization and travel vouchers were not transmitted to Finance on Saipan.
Banes said they are not speculating and that they’re scheduled to re-interview that night (yesterday) Sharon Manglona, who is currently in the Philippines.
Banes said Sharon Manglona stated that documents were sent to Saipan Finance electronically and that Finance approved it.
In the federal court case, the charges against the Ataligs involve at least eight trips taken by the couple at different times in 2018 to Guam, Palau, the U.S. mainland, South Korea, and Saipan.
The Ataligs are being charged jointly with wire fraud, theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, and conspiracy to commit fire fraud and federal funds theft.
In the Superior Court case, the Office of the Attorney General filed a second amended information that re-charged Mayor Atalig and seven others with misconduct in public office and eliminated the prior counts of theft.