Torres wants an off-island judge to handle his suit
Believing that no local judge can truly be impartial in handling his lawsuit against the House of Representatives Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres wants the NMI Judiciary to appoint a judge from outside of the CNMI who has no ties to any CNMI politician to handle the lawsuit.
In line with this, Torres, through his counsels, wrote the CNMI Superior Court to express his opposition to the appointment of former associate judge Timothy Bellas as the judge in his lawsuit against the JGO committee.
In a letter to Superior Court clerk of court Patrick Diaz, Torres—through his lawyers: Gilbert Birnbrich, Joseph Horey, and Richard Miller—said that neither Bellas nor any other CNMI judge should serve as judge in his lawsuit against the JGO committee.
“The governor believes that neither Judge Bellas nor any other current or former CNMI judge should serve as judge pro tempore in this matter. The CNMI is a small community; there is scarcely a family that does not have ties to the government and a history of close political allegiances. So extensive are these ties that all five sitting Superior Court judges have had to disqualify themselves for one reason or another,” Torres’ counsel wrote.
The letter further explains that no local judge can truly detach themselves in this matter due to the CNMI community being so small that there are bound to be ties in some way.
“In light of the highly partisan atmosphere surrounding the governor’s ongoing dispute with the committee, the governor believes that no single CNMI judge, current or former, can either be truly insulated from it or, no less important, be perceived by the public, reasonably or not, as insulated from it,” the lawyers state.
Torres’ counsel noted that, although he opposes the appointment of a local judge to his suit, he does not doubt the integrity of the CNMI judges but rather, it is important that the public does not perceive the proceedings to be one-sided.
Torres said the only way to avoid this perception is for the court to appoint a judge outside of the CNMI who has no ties to any CNMI politician to ensure there is no foul play.
“The governor has great faith in the ability and integrity of CNMI judges, but sometimes the better part of judgment is knowing when to step away. This case, more than almost any other, cries out for appointment of a judge from outside the CNMI, who has no ties or allegiances, real or perceived, to CNMI politicians. In the highly charged political atmosphere surrounding this case, it is essential that there be no public perception whatsoever that the judge may be partial politically to one side or the other. The losing side may well want to cry foul, yet it is in the best interest of the whole community, as well as the health of political debate in the Commonwealth, that no hook be provided for either side to hang its hat on. This can only be attained by having a judge from outside the Commonwealth preside in the Superior Court,” the letter stated.
According to Saipan Tribune archives, Bellas was appointed last December 2021 to hear the lawsuit filed by Torres against the JGO committee over its decision to hold him in contempt.
The appointment of Bellas to serve in the matter pro tempore, or for the time being, came after all five CNMI Superior Court judges recused themselves from hearing the lawsuit.
Bellas has served as a justice and judge pro tem of both the CNMI Supreme and Superior Court since 2002.