Teri Tenorio leaves OAG; seeks to quash subpoena

Zona says ex-prosecutor should be held in contempt

Disclosing that she is no longer a government prosecutor, Teri C. Tenorio has urged the Superior Court to quash the subpoena served on her in a case against a man facing charges of sexually assaulting a minor. Alternatively, Tenorio wants to be allowed to appear at the hearing via telephone in case she is off-island.

In the government’s motion to quash filed last Friday, Tenorio said she has absolutely no materials to produce pursuant to the subpoena served on her by defendant Joseph Seman Epina. She also pointed out that Epina has failed to meet his burden to compel her testimony.

In his reply, Epina, through counsel assistant public defender Heather M. Zona, asked the court to strike the government’s motion to quash the subpoena and deny Tenorio’s request for telephonic appearance.

Zona said Tenorio should be ordered to show cause why she should not be held in contempt for disobeying a subpoena and a court order.

The subpoena on Tenorio seeks her testimony and all documents pertaining to communications between her and the minor.

In the government’s motion to quash, Tenorio said she took no notes nor made any “documents,” as defined in the subpoena, during any meeting involving the criminal matter for which Epina is charged.

She said prior to the court’s order that changed the original hearing from Feb. 21, 2019, she was scheduled to depart the CNMI last Sunday, Feb. 24, upon the expiration of her employment contact as an assistant attorney general.

Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho set an evidentiary hearing for tomorrow, Wednesday.

Tenorio requested the court to take judicial notice of its prior decision in criminal matters where the defendant had subpoenaed the prosecuting attorney who handled the case to testify.

The prior decision refers to Camacho’s order granting the government’s motion to quash the subpoena of a prosecutor who handled the case as the defendant, a former Rota police officer, failed to establish a compelling need by showing the necessity of the prosecutor’s testimony and that all other available sources of comparably probative evidence have been exhausted.

In Epina’s motion to strike, Zona said they filed a motion to compel discovery after it became clear that, among other things, the prosecution had participated in the tainting of the memory of the sole complaining witness in the case.

“Indeed, it appears that Ms. Tenorio conducted an interview of Mr. Epina’s accuser for many hours over two days,” she pointed out.

Zona said the court set an evidentiary hearing in this case for Feb. 15 and served subpoenas, including one on Tenorio.

The government then moved to quash the subpoenas.

Camacho subsequently reset the evidentiary hearing to tomorrow, Wednesday, at 9am.

Each time, the court made clear the individuals under subpoena were ordered to appear at the new dates, Zona said.

Zona said now, on the last business day she is scheduled to be on Saipan, Tenorio has filed the motion to quash, asserting that she is scheduled to leave the island last weekend.

She said it appears Tenorio made her travel plans to Guam the same date the judge issued his order.

“This belated notice is yet another example of the Commonwealth’s inability to act in good faith and follow the rules that everyone else is inclined to follow,” she pointed out.

Zona said because the motion to quash already is sub judice, this “new” motion to quash should be stricken as “duplicative, cumulative, and a waste of judicial resources.”

Zona said the subpoenas request that Tenorio come to court with material concerning her meetings with Epina’s accuser.

For the first time, she said, Tenorio claims she does not have any notes.

“The concept of a prosecutor (or any attorney) not taking notes while interviewing a witness defies credulity,” she said. Zona said given the lack of candor by the Office of the Attorney General, such an assertion cannot be accepted at face value.

The defense counsel said should the court allow Epina to proceed with the witnesses subpoenaed, Tenorio should be asked about materials she is required to bring to court that reflects dates she met with Epina’s accuser (among other things).

“This task cannot be done remotely, unless Ms. Tenorio is planning on bringing OAG files with her once she leaves the office,” she said.

Zona asked the court to issue an order to show cause wherein Tenorio would be compelled to explain why she is able to disregard a subpoena and a court order.

Zona said every day bench warrants are issued to criminal defendants who fail to adhere to court orders.

“It would be a sad statement were Ms. Tenorio allowed to decide which court orders to follow without facing the consequences governing everyone else,” she said.

The 45-year-old Epina is facing charges for raping a then-12-year-old girl on Saipan on March 12, 2016. The girl told police that it was not the first time that he sexually assaulted her.

The OAG charged Epina with sexual assault of a minor in the first degree, assault and battery, and disturbing the peace.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a veteran journalist who has covered all news beats in the CNMI. Born in Lilo-an, Cebu City in the Philippines, De la Torre graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He is a recipient of many commendations and awards, including the CNMI Judiciary’s prestigious Justice Award for his over 10 years of reporting on the judiciary’s proceedings and decisions. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@saipantribune.com

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