Governor’s counsels ready to call their first “exciting” witness
The historic impeachment trial of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is expected to kick off at 10am today—a Friday the 13th—with the House of Representatives uncertain as to how they are going to make their case without prosecutors to the senators who will decide whether to convict or acquit Torres on corruption and neglect of duty charges.
Saipan Tribune learned yesterday from a source that the counsels for the 42-year-old Torres are ready to call their first witness, which will reportedly make the trial “exciting.”
The Republican-controlled nine-member Senate will make its decision whether to acquit the youngest governor on U.S. soil or convict and remove him from office—just as Torres, who is the titular head of CNMI’s GOP, is only months away from a re-election bid in November.
Anthony Aguon, a young lawyer from Tinian, will be the lead counsel for the governor. Veteran lawyers Ross Garber and Gilbert Birnbrich will be the other counsels for Torres. The Washington D.C.-based Garber, a known impeachment trial expert, will appear virtually.
As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still awaiting comments from Torres.
Torres said in a previous statement, though, that he has not done anything illegal and that he trusts the Senate’s ability to conduct the trial with transparency, proper decorum, and in accordance with published rules.
Senate floor leader Vinnie F. Sablan, (R-Saipan), who is the governor’s running mate in the November 2022 election, has already recused himself from the proceedings, along with Sen. Justo S. Quitugua (R-Saipan). That leaves the Senate with just seven senators who will be voting on Torres’ fate. The CNMI Constitution requires two-thirds of the full Senate—or six senators—to vote “yes” to convict Torres.
Four senators, though, are Torres’ party-mates. The Republican senators are Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider, who is the presiding officer of the proceedings, Karl R. King-Nabors, Francisco Q. Cruz, and Victor B. Hocog.
The minority senators are Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan), Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), and Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota).
In an interview yesterday, House Speaker Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) said he can’t wait to see how the Senate is going to proceed with the trial, given everything that has happened.
Villagomez said the House was not given the opportunity to select its prosecutors and that the House’s impeachment records have been rejected.
“I just would like to see how they’re going’ to carry on with the hearing [today],” the speaker said.
He said they’ve always pushed the Senate to give them the opportunity to select House members to serve as prosecutors. The Senate, however, went ahead and selected Rep. Corina L. Magofna (D-Saipan) as prosecutor, but Magofna rejected it because they feel that he (Villagomez) should be given the opportunity to appoint more than one House lawmaker to be named House prosecutor.
“But it is what it is,” said the speaker, adding that the Senate does have the authority to decide on the setup of how the trial is going to proceed in their court.
Villagomez said the Senate has their requirements and that the House respectfully disagrees.
He said he believes some House members might go to the public comment portion and express their views on the issues.
Last Jan. 12, with 15 “yes” votes, four “no” votes, and one abstention, the Democrat-controlled House passed House Resolution 22-14, impeaching Torres for alleged commission of felonies, corruption, and neglect of duty, in violation of Article 111, Section 19 of the CNMI Constitution.
House Resolution 22-14, introduced by Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan), has six Articles of Impeachment charging Torres with committing felony theft of utility services, committing felony theft, corruption for unlawful first-class and business-class travel, corruption for misuse of government resources, neglect of duty for negligence during crisis, and neglect of duty for contempt of the Legislature.
Torres is the second governor in CNMI history to be impeached by the House. The first one was former governor Benigno R. Fitial.