Judge says Sen. Paul Manglona’s testimony lacked credibility
A deed of gift that Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota) has been showing as proof that his mother gave him a piece of land in Upper Capitol Hill in 1985 has been deemed a forgery.
Superior Court judge pro tempore David A. Wiseman also determined that Manglona’s testimony in the case lacked credibility.
In comments yesterday, Manglona said he was surprised to learn about the ruling on his quiet title action, nullifying the 1985 deed of gift for the Capitol Hill property.
The senator said it’s quite shocking because his parents and the Japanese lessee relied on this deed when he leased the property approximately 34 years ago, with the entire lease proceeds going to his parents.
“Almost every single one of my siblings were aware of this lease. I really thought this will be over by now, but it’s a long way from that,” said Manglona, adding that he will be taking this matter on appeal to the CNMI Supreme Court.
In a 26-page decision on Monday, Wiseman ruled that the signature of Manglona’s mother, Bernadita Manglona, in the deed of gift dated July 1, 1985, is not hers and is a forgery. That makes the deed null and void.
Wiseman found the testimony of handwriting expert Reed Hayes to be credible, after listening to the testimony and reviewing the transcript several times.
Hayes had testified that he had concluded that Bernadita Manglona did not sign the deed after analyzing her 18 known signature samples and compared it to the signature in the 1985 deed.
Bernadita Manglona passed away on May 30, 2009. Bernadita Manglona’s husband, Prudencio T. Manglona, passed away on June 3, 2014.
Wiseman said that Paul Manglona’s statements about his father’s illness, his claim of not reading draft of deeds of gifts prepared by his own daughter in 2010, or reviewing copies of signed deeds of gift given to him by his brother, Associate Justice John Manglona, after he demanded the same “are unconvincing at best.”
Further, the judge said, Paul Manglona does not appear to be able to independently recognize his mother’s signature on the 1985 deed as he admitted on cross-examination that he “assumes” it is her signature merely because it was notarized.
Wiseman also ruled that the rest of Paul Manglona’s claims in his lawsuit against his siblings are without merit and are dismissed with prejudice.
Dismissal with prejudice means Paul Manglona can no longer re-file the claims.
Paul Manglona sued his siblings over the disputed 4,181-square meter property on Upper Capitol Hill. The senator asked the court to declare him the owner of the property by virtue of the 1985 deed of gift.
The defendants in the case are siblings Priscilla M. Torres, Thomas A. Manglona, Vincent A. Manglona, and Associate Justice John A. Manglona.
Charles A. Manglona and Prudencio A. Manglona are not referred to as defendants since they are not claiming that the deed of gift is a forgery.
Priscilla Manglona Torres and Thomas A. Manglona, co-administrators of the estate of their late mother, asserted that their brother, Paul Manglona, does not inherit entirely the disputed land as their mother’s signature in the document had been forged.
They asserted that at least 50 percent of the disputed Capitol Hill property had already been conveyed to them in equal shares through a July 26, 2013, deed of gift signed by their father, Prudencio Manglona.
A bench trial in the senator’s lawsuit lasted from Feb. 20 to 22, 2018, and continued on Nov. 13, 2018.
Mark Scoggins and Rene Holmes served as counsel for the senator. Samuel Mok is counsel for Priscilla and Thomas Manglona. The other defendants appeared without a lawyer.
In his ruling on Monday, Wiseman noted that he is surprised that neither party called the notary, Glenda P. Reyes, to testify, as her testimony could have been persuasive and, perhaps, even decisive for either party.
Further, Wiseman said, he is also surprised that Paul Manglona did not procure an expert, especially since the defendants were going to attack the 1985 deed as a forgery with an expert.
“Why the plaintiff did not choose to bring his own expert to counter the defendants’ expert is a mystery,” the judge said.
Wiseman said the defendants effectively rebutted the presumption of validity accorded to the 1985 deed based on the presentation of reliable and un-rebutted expert testimony, and the credible testimony of heirs John, Vincent, and Priscilla Manglona.
Since the court determines that the 1985 deed contains a forged signature, it is deemed void from the beginning, Wiseman said.
Therefore, he said, the statute of limitations does not apply in this matter since the underlying transaction is deemed to have not occurred.
Wiseman ruled that the doctrine of laches does not apply.
The doctrine of laches acts as an equitable bar preventing a party from seeking recovery for an alleged wrong if it can be shown the adverse party will be prejudiced due to a plaintiff’s neglect or delay.
Paul Manglona has argued that, even if the 1985 deed was a forgery, the doctrine of laches bars the defendants’ interest in the property.
Wiseman said Paul Manglona failed to show inexcusable delay.
He said Paul Manglona did not proffer credible testimony showing when the defendants first received notice of the 1985 deed.
Wiseman said the plaintiff’s testimony that he distributed to his family for review deeds of gift drafted by his own daughter that listed the disputed property as belonging to his father belies any notion that he notified any family member that he owned the property.
Additionally, the judge said, the fact that Paul Manglona would allow his father, without objection or complaint, to sign an actual deed of gift dated July 26, 2013, that listed the disputed property as belonging to his father further reinforces the theory that the defendants had no notice of his ownership rights.
Wiseman said Paul Manglona failed to show prejudice and there is no evidence of economic prejudice because the property at issue is undeveloped.
He said Paul Mangloma cannot plausibly claim economic prejudice given the fact the property was undeveloped and vacant up until just recently, when construction activity first began within the last two years.
When this construction activity started, the judge said, plaintiff was on notice that the status of the property was disputed.
“Therefore, any actions he took to convey the disputed property in spite of this knowledge are self-inflicted injuries that a prudent person would…have avoided,” Wise-man said.
Also, Wiseman said, there is no suggestion of evidentiary prejudice because plaintiff had enough opportunity to call the notary public, Reyes, who purportedly notarized the 1985 deed.
However, the judge said, Reyes was never called to the stand even if she lived on Saipan and was Paul Manglona’s former long-time secretary.
Wiseman said the plaintiff’s father, Prudencio T. Manglona, could have testified about the 1985 deed. Instead, Wiseman said, plaintiff filed objections to the defendants’ efforts to have the testimony heard.
“It is clear that no evidence of prejudice occurred,” the judge said in dismissing the senator’s claim of laches.
In dismissing the plaintiff’s cause of action for adverse possession, Wiseman said plaintiff’s testimony made it clear that the property was unoccupied and undeveloped up until two years ago.
Wiseman ruled that slander of title did not occur and Prudencio T. Manglona had a valid 50 percent interest in the property.
Wiseman said defendants did not slander title by their filing of a notice of fee title ownership.
He said the basis of the notice was predicated on the 2013 deed made by Prudencio T. Manglona to his heirs in equal shares.