OAG moves for recusal of Judge Camacho


The Office of the Attorney General has filed a motion for the recusal of Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho from presiding over the corruption case filed against former Rota mayor Melchor A. Mendiola and four co-defendants.

Assistant attorney general Matthew C. Baisley said a reasonable person could conclude that Camacho is biased against the CNMI government in the case against Mendiola and co-defendants and/or has prejudged the merits of that matter.

Baisley said first, Camacho disclosed a conversation he had with an extrajudicial source (the judiciary’s comptroller) regarding the judiciary’s expenditure of $50,000 in preparation for the trial in the previous case involving the same defendants that was dismissed.

Second, the prosecutor said, after disclosing this conversation—which was external to any fact at issue in the previous case, and was had with direct reference to the previous case—the judge compared the $50,000 cost to the judiciary with the lesser value of the government property at issue in the previous case.

Baisley was referring to Camacho’s statement that involved in this case were “four laptops with values ranging from $975 to $2,049, as well as nine picnic tables.”

Baisley said at both the hearing and in his order, Camacho directly questioned the government regarding whether it “had considered pursuing a civil collection action against the defendants rather than a criminal prosecution.”

Third, the prosecutor said, Camacho stated that “it is obvious to the court that this motion is a motion for leave to amend and a motion to continue disguised as a motion to dismiss.”

Taken together, Baisley said, a reasonable person could view these comments as reflecting one or more of the positions that given the lesser value of the government property, a criminal prosecution is not “worth the cost”; that given the lesser value of the government property, civil sanctions, not criminal sanctions are appropriate; that the expense incurred by the judiciary in this case renders the government’s prosecution unwarranted, ill-advised, and/or counterproductive; and that the government was disingenuous in its filings before the court.

Baisley said the government is obligated to ferret out public waste and corruption even where, as here, the amount in controversy was limited to approximately $6,000.

“Criminal prosecutions serve a deterrent effect, and help stem the tide of public waste which, taken in the aggregate, costs the Commonwealth far more than $50,000,” he said.

The prosecutor said a reasonable outside observer might consider the judge’s comments as evidence that the court has a preexisting and/or extrajudicial bias against the government in the pending case.

He said Camacho should “err on the side of caution” and recuse himself from the case so that it may be quickly and conveniently reassigned.

“Though the court undoubtedly did not intend to question the legitimacy of prosecuting cases involving thousands of dollars of government waste, a reasonable person could conclude that the court does not believe that this case should move forward,” Baisley said.

In the interest of preserving the judiciary’s impartiality, the prosecutor said, the government requests Camacho to recuse himself from the case.

The trial in the case is currently scheduled for Nov. 28, 2016.

Mendiola and co-defendants Alfred Apatang, Bernard Apatang, Tina Atalig, and Stacey Atalig are each charged with possession or removal of government property.

Office of Public Auditor Task Force officer JB K. Cepeda stated in his report that they initiated the investigation after receiving a letter from Rota Mayor Efrain M. Atalig, requesting assistance to investigate into Mendiola’s questionable transactions.

Cepeda said Atalig apparently discovered government properties such as computer laptops, folding tables, typewriter, and other items were unaccounted for or missing.

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

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