CCC board prevents IPI from appearing before the hearing without counsel; allows off-island witnesses to testify via Zoom
The Commonwealth Casino Commission board granted yesterday CCC executive director Andrew Yeom’s motion that prevents Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC from appearing before the CCC hearing without a lawyer in Yeom’s two complaints against IPI.
CCC vice chair Rafael S. Demapan, who presided over a status hearing in Yeom’s two consolidated cases, also announced that they granted Yeom’s other motion that will allow off-island witnesses to testify via Zoom.
IPI counsel Michael W. Dotts did not appear at the conference. No IPI official also sat on the defendant’s table after learning that U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona issued an order yesterday stopping all IPI employees from working, except for those in charge with payroll and security.
Former Saipan senator Ray Naraja Yumul and other IPI officials attended the conference, but did not sit on the defendant’s table. Yumul is reportedly negotiating with IPI to serve as IPI’s new chief executive officer.
Demapan announced the decision after a discussion during a recess with other commissioners—Ramon M. Dela Cruz, Diego M. Songao, and Mariano Taitano.
CCC chair Edward C. Deleon Guerrero recused himself from the case because he was CCC’s executive director when the two cases were filed.
John P. Lowrey, the newly promoted chief of the Office of the Attorney General’s Civil Division, appeared at the conference as counsel for the board.
The first complaint, which was filed on May 20, 2020, refers to IPI’s alleged failure to contribute $20 million in community benefit fund.
The second complaint, which was filed on Aug. 26, 2020, pertains to IPI’s alleged failure to pay the $15 million annual license fee.
After announcing their decisions to grant the two motions, Demapan asked assistant attorney general Michael L. Ernest, counsel for Yeom, to restate their third motion. Ernest said he has yet to write the motion, but that it will be to prevent IPI’s attorney from raising certain defenses that would be frivolous and irrelevant. Demapan said they decided to wait until Ernest files the written motion.
Demapan set the trial on the merits of the two consolidated complaints for Feb. 25, 2021.
At the conference, Ernest discussed the two motions and informed the board about filing the third motion.
Ernest said Yeom is ready to proceed on the two consolidated complaints and urges the setting of a hearing on the merits at the earliest time convenience of the commission. “I believe all our witnesses are on island. We filed an amended witness and exhibit list,” he said.
Ernest said one of their witnesses that they intend to call via Zoom or teleconference is former IPI general counsel Phillip Tydingco, who is off-island. He said Tydingco’s presence may not be necessary if they can get the requisite stipulations from IPI.
Ernest said because of the difficulties inherent in traveling with COVID-19, they asked the commission to allow their witnesses to appear at any hearing in this matter via Zoom or other teleconference.
Ernest restated Yeom’s motion that IPI cannot defend itself in any way except through an attorney licensed to practice in the CNMI. “This is I believe, the state of the law. It’s a crime in the Commonwealth to appear before you unless there is an applicable rule granting permission and I don’t believe that is the case,” he said.
Citing Manglona’s stop-work order, Ernest said he has not read the order, but that in all candor, his belief is that it would be a direct violation of the federal court order for anyone other than an outside retained counsel to come in and do any work, and presumably that would include defending IPI.
“The fact is there’s this federal court order that says they can’t even talk to you right now,” Ernest told the board.
He said he would like to add the federal district court order as an additional basis for the granting of their motion to prevent IPI from appearing without counsel.
Demapan stated that for the record during the board’s regular monthly meeting last Dec. 22, they strongly advised IPI that they should have a counsel at the status conference.
“It appears none [are in attendance],” Demapan said.