Rep. Celina Babauta (D-Saipan), who chairs the House of Representatives’ Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations, thanked Superior Court judge pro tempore Timothy H. Bellas and the court’s staff for what she describes as a “timely, clear and just decision that upholds legislative immunity.”
This comes soon after Bellas ruled Tuesday afternoon that the JGO is immune from Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ lawsuit and reaffirmed that the governor is not immune to the committee’s subpoena authority.
In a news release yesterday, Babauta said she knew the subpoena fell within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity and claimed Bellas’ decision as a victory for the CNMI government’s system of checks and balances.
“The governor was grasping at straws to avoid testifying under oath and today he left the court empty-handed,” hairwoman Babauta said. “This ruling confirms our knowledge that nobody is above the law, not even Gov. Torres.”
The ruling has further implications, as Bellas’ decision undermines the assertions made during the Senate impeachment hearings Monday afternoon by Torres’ counsel, Ross Garber. The ruling also clears the way for the contempt charge filed against Torres by Attorney General Edward Manibusan.
In his ruling Tuesday afternoon, Bellas said Torres and his legal team of Joseph Horey, Richard Miller, Ross Garber, and Gilbert Birnbrich “failed to provide any detail regarding the subject matters covered by the subpoena or how they allegedly implicate information protected by executive privilege.”
Further, Bellas ruled, “a plaintiff should not be able to file a bare-bones complaint devoid of factual allegations and subsequently benefit from arguing that any relevant documents submitted by the defendant in support of a motion to dismiss is extrinsic evidence of factual disputes more appropriately reserved for a later stage of the litigation.”
The lawsuit came about after Torres failed to appear in the House of Representative chamber on Dec. 10, 2021, to evade questions under oath from the JGO committee about his extravagant expenditures and first-class travel. He again failed to appear four days later when the committee offered him an accommodation to evade a contempt charge.
Aware that his failure to appear would amount to contempt, Torres sought relief from the Judiciary, claimed the JGO’s subpoena was “invalid and unlawful,” and did not appear in the House chamber. (PR)