U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has recused herself from presiding over Japanese investor Takahisa Yamamoto’s lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog and the owner of cargo ship M/V Luta.
On Monday, Manglona disqualified herself from Yamamoto’s lawsuit and several others who have intervened in Yamamoto’s civil action against Hocog and the vessel’s operators.
Manglona did not explain her recusal, aside from citing 28 U.S.C. Section 455(a). That law states that “any justice, judge, or magistrate judge of the United States shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”
Manglona said that District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood will preside.
In his lawsuit, Yamamoto alleged that Hocog and his co-defendants refused to pay back the $3.4 million that he put up for M/V Luta. Yamamoto is suing Hocog, M/V Luta, Luta Mermaid LLC, Abelina T. Mendiola, Deron T. Mendiola, Fidel S. Mendiola III, Fidel Mendiola Jr., and Robert Toelkes.
Luta Mermaid owns M/V Luta. Abelina Mendiola, Fidel S. Mendiola III, and Deron Mendiola are members of the company.
Abelina Mendiola is based on Rota, while Fidel Mendiola is a resident of Louisiana, and Deron Mendiola is a resident of Idaho, according to court papers. Yamamoto is suing them for breach of contract, fraud, and unjust enrichment.
The U.S. Marshal Service has seized M/V Luta and appointed the National Maritime Services Inc. as its custodian.
Yamamoto asked the court that the vessel be condemned and be sold to pay his demands, including interest and cost.
After Yamamoto filed the case, two companies and crew members of M/V Luta also joined in the lawsuit.
Norton Lilly International Inc., an Alabama corporation, wants to collect from M/V Luta $131,801.10 in alleged unpaid goods and services.
The captain and six other crew members of M/V Luta have also intervened because they allegedly have not been paid their wages, $183,647.77.
Long Consulting LLC, a limited liability company, also claims to have a maritime lien on M/V Luta after the vessel’s owners/operators allegedly failed to repay any part of their $300,000 loan.
Last week, Lt. Gov. Hocog filed a motion asking the court to dismiss Yamamoto’s lawsuit.
Hocog, through Guam-based counsel Jeffrey A. Moots, asserted that there is nothing to indicate that he participated in any of the allegations.
It was former Public Lands secretary John DelRosario who first filed a lawsuit against Hocog over M/V Luta. Last May, DelRosario filed a taxpayer’s lawsuit against Hocog and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson over the alleged adoption of a Rota legislative delegation resolution that purportedly authorized giving $400,000 to Luta Mermaid, a private company owned by Hocog’s relatives.