Judge orders appointment of special prosecutor to be paid by OAG
Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho has disqualified the Office of the Attorney General from prosecuting Chief Solicitor James J. Zarones’ traffic case, citing conflict.
Camacho ordered the clerk of court yesterday to go through the list of NMI Bar members and see if anyone is willing to be a special prosecutor in the case.
Any special prosecutor who takes up the case will be paid by the OAG at the regular rate, Camacho said.
The judge ruled that the OAG cannot prosecute one of its own. Camacho said OAG cannot represent the prosecution while at the same time the defendant also represents OAG as the chief solicitor.
At the hearing, assistant attorney general Jonathan Robert Glass Jr. appeared for the government. Zarones appeared by himself.
Camacho said Zarones is still an employee of the OAG, who answers to Attorney General Edward Manibusan.
The judge said the law does allow the OAG to represent multiple parties. However, Camacho said, in this case OAG is not representing both the government and Zarones. He said the OAG is prosecuting Zarones.
Camacho noted that it does happen from time to time that OAG employees do get payable traffic tickets, but that getting a traffic ticket does not immediately create a conflict.
Camacho said if Zarones had appeared at the courthouse and simply paid his fine, no conflict would have arisen.
However, the judge said, Zarones appeared at the traffic arraignment date and entered a not-guilty plea, and is contesting the ticket.
Camacho said a conflict arose because the OAG is constitutionally responsible for the prosecution of traffic cases and Zarones is the chief solicitor.
Camacho said the moment Zarones contested his traffic ticket, the case became adversarial.
Camacho expressed concern that there appears to be a lot of emotionally charged language between Zarones and Glass.
“To have the Office of the Attorney General now select a special prosecutor might only add to the conflict or the appearance of a conflict,” he pointed out.
Camacho said the remaining motions will not be addressed until a special prosecutor is appointed.
Camacho set the bench trial for Dec. 21, 2016, at 2:30pm.
Zarones’ last day as an employee of the OAG Civil Division will be on Dec. 26, 2016.
Zarones is accused of violating 9 CMC Section 5352(a) or failure to yield the right of way to another motorist. The traffic citation was issued by a police officer on Oct. 5, 2016. Normally, the penalty for such infraction is only a $25 fine.