New courthouse breaks ground


U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, U.S. District Court for the NMI Magistrate Judge Heather Kennedy, District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, Lt. Gov. Victor Hocog, and Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang lead the shoveling of soil at the groundbreaking for the U.S. Courthouse building in Gualo Rai yesterday morning. (BILL BEZZANT)

The ground was broken yesterday to mark the start of construction for a state-of-the-art U.S. Courthouse building in Gualo Rai.

In her remarks, U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Mangloña said, “This special occasion is a significant milestone in our quest for a new federal courthouse.”

The project is composed of a 53,000 square-foot, three-story courthouse with a basement, and two adjoining commercial buildings.

The courthouse will include one courtroom, two judges’ chambers, a jury assembly room and office space for building tenants.

U.S. General Services Administration awarded a 20-year lease to Marianas Management Corp. for the construction of the building. GSA said the lease will cost approximately $2.4 million annually.

MMC is a subsidiary of Joeten Enterprises Inc.

Mangloña said they were able to break ground on the project due to the persistent efforts of GSA and the entire federal family, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Marshal’s Office.

Mangloña said she is confident that MMC will construct and complete the building that will make all of the people in the Commonwealth proud.

The judge recalled that when the District Court for the NMI opened in 1978, it was a poolside suite at the Saipan InterContinental Hotel, now the Fiesta Resort and Spa Saipan.

Soon after, Mangloña said, during the tenure of Chief Judge Alfred Laureta, the district court took space at the Nauru Building (now the Marianas Business Plaza) in Susupe. At the time, she said, the Nauru Building was the newest and most modern office building on Saipan.

Mangloña said that, as Chief Judge Alex Munson recollected, upon his appointment in 1988, the courtroom at the Nauru Building was found inadequate and small. She said that, according to Munson, the courtroom featured a plywood bench for the judge and plywood seats for the public.

Munson then contacted GSA to visit the courthouse and assess the facility. Three representatives from the GSA’s San Francisco office came to Saipan to determine what they could do to bring the court into compliance with federal standards.

During their visit, the air conditioning system for the entire Nauru Building was broken and had been for nearly two months, leaving very little ventilation in an already balmy climate.

After the three spent three or four uncomfortable days in the Nauru Building, they decided it was time for the court to change venue. They found the Horiguchi Building and negotiated to have the court moved there.

Mangloña said the Horiguchi Building had already started construction as a five-story condominium and that explains why the courtroom ended up on the ground floor, with large columns within the well.

Mangloña said the district court eventually moved into the new courthouse at the current location in Garapan in 1991, which was in every way much more comfortable and functional. “Finally, we had a courthouse that looked like a federal court,” she said.

However, Mangloña said, only seven years later, in the wake of the Oklahoma City federal courthouse bombing, a federal assessment board determined that the current courthouse is at the least safe in the nation.

As a result, Mangloña said, GSA decided to build a new federal building on Saipan, which would include a post office on the ground floor, and the court and other federal agencies on the second and third floors.

After GSA personnel came to Saipan many times to look for building sites, they finally decided that only a federal courthouse would be constructed, with offices for the U.S. Marshals, U.S. Attorney, U.S. Probation, the Coast Guard, and the Department of the Interior.

Mangloña noted that the Ninth Circuit of Appeals and the Judicial Conference of the U.S. remained supportive of a new courthouse on Saipan, and made continued efforts to have GSA build one.

Mangloña also cited an incident in October 2010 when a cargo van crashed into the ground floor courtroom. That incident prodded everyone involved to prioritize this project and move quickly to find yet another home.

By the time Mangloña joined the federal bench in 2011, GSA had only strengthened its commitment to the Saipan courthouse project.

Mangloña said in the past several years, acting regional administrator Dan Brown and his team at GSA have maintained regular conference calls with herself and Magistrate Judge Heather Kennedy to monitor the progress and address any setbacks along the way.

“We look forward to returning in a year and a half to attend another ceremony to cut the ribbon and open the new doors,” said Mangloña.

GSA’s Lupe Flores acknowledged MMS and its team for their partnership. “I look forward to our continued collaboration on this..project,” Flores said.

MMC secretary/treasurer Norman T. Tenorio said the courthouse will be environmentally friendly, based on its sustainable, energy, and resource-efficient design.

Tenorio said they anticipate for construction to take about one and a half years, with the courthouse scheduled to be completed by the third quarter of 2019.

“This beautiful federal courthouse will be something that our local community can take a great amount of pride in,” Tenorio said.

Acting governor Victor B. Hocog urged the contractor, Future World Corp. (Guam), to complete the project on time.

Bishop Ryan Jimenez of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa initiated a prayer and blessing at the site.

District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood and Saipan Mayor David M. Apatang attended the ceremony, along with CNMI justices and some judges, lawyers, lawmakers, Cabinet members, federal court employees, and MMC officers and Joeten family.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

Related Posts

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.