Citing conflict of interest, the Office of the Attorney General wants Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho disqualified from presiding over a bench trial in a lawsuit by a landowner against the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. and the CNMI government.
Christopher M. Timmons, chief of the OAG Civil Division, argued that Camacho’s impartiality might be questioned because Brien Sers Nicholas, who is counsel for landowner Conrad M. Sablan, represents the judge’s brother and grandmother in a similar lawsuit against the same defendant, the CNMI.
Timmons said the separate lawsuit involving Camacho’s brother and grandmother presents legal issues that the judge will be required to decide in Sablan’s case.
Timmon said this means that Camacho’s decision in the Sablan case will affect the outcome of a case in which his brother and grandmother are parties seeking damages against the same defendant, the CNMI.
“These circumstances also demonstrate a personal bias against the CNMI,” said Timmons, asserting that Camacho should recuse himself from the Sablan case or be disqualified from presiding over the Sablan case.
The brother and grandmother that Timmons is referring to are former Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services commissioner Claudio K. Norita and Julia Kotomar Norita. Sers Nicholas is also counsel in Claudio and Julia Norita’s lawsuit against the CNMI government over the alleged taking of their land along Chalan Pale Arnold in Tanapag.
Camacho has nothing to do with the lawsuit by his brother and grandmother and actually recused himself from handling the case. Guam Judge Alberto C. Lamorena III was appointed to handle that lawsuit.
Timmons asked the court to disqualify Camacho from presiding over Sablan’s case, asserting that persons with two degrees of kinship to the judge will be affected and have an interest that could be affected by the outcome of this proceeding.
Timmon said the fact that Camacho insists on presiding over a matter in which Sers Nicholas, who is counsel for Sablan, also represents the judge’s family in a dispute involving the same defendant, the CNMI, calls his impartiality into question.
After receiving the OAG’s motion to disqualify six days into the bench trial in Sablan’s case, Camacho stayed the trial last Sept. 10 and requested Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja to assign another judge to hear the motion to disqualify.
Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo originally handled the Sablan case but, on the day of the trial, CUC and the CNMI moved to disqualify him as his wife had filed a complaint against CUC on water bill issue.
With Govendo’s recusal, Naraja re-assigned the case to Camacho. Timmons then moved to disqualify Camacho.
Sablan, through Sers Nicholas, asked Camacho to reconsider his decision to stay the case and ask Naraja to assign to another judge the motion to disqualify.
Sers Nicholas said the OAG’s accusations of personal bias and prejudice are “total nonsense, baseless, and false.” He said the “frivolous and bad faith accusations” against Camacho are false and non-existing.
To stay the proceeding in the Sablan case on account of what Sers Nicolas described as a frivolous motion “constitutes grave injustice” to Sablan, which must not only be stopped but prevented as it “sets up bad, bad precedents” in CNMI courts.
Sablan filed the lawsuit in 2015 against CUC and the CNMI government for allegedly building a water tank and putting up fences on his land in Rafugao.