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By John Ravelo

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 3) - For the first time in Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas history, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held its proceedings at the courtroom of the CNMI Supreme Court Friday-the last working day before it loses jurisdiction over the CNMI judiciary.

The Ninth Circuit's Chief Judge Mary M. Schroeder, Senior Judges J. Clifford Wallace and Alfred T. Goodwin will be among the special guests to the Judicial Branch Commemorative Celebration to mark the CNMI Supreme Court's independence from the U.S. Court of Appeals beginning today.

Officially, though, the Ninth Circuit has lost its appellate jurisdiction over the CNMI judiciary since yesterday. As such, the CNMI Supreme Court is now the highest court in the Commonwealth. An appeal from the CNMI Supreme Court's decision may be brought only before the U.S. Supreme Court, which reportedly has a high percentage of denying petitions for judicial review.

The Covenant provided for a 15-year transition period whereby the CNMI judiciary became subject to appellate jurisdiction by U.S. Court of Appeals from the time the local judiciary was formed in 1989. The appellate jurisdiction was put in place to allow federal guidance to the local judiciary during its formative years. The 15-year period expired yesterday.

CNMI Chief Justice Miguel S. Demapan welcomed this development as another step to fully attaining democracy in the Commonwealth.

"We are now a democracy on par with the democracies of the fifty states [of the U.S.]. We are a full-fledged part of the American political family," Demapan said.

The CNMI's jurists and lawyers will have a busy week beginning today, with the local judiciary organizing several activities for the celebration. Noted American and Micronesian jurists would participate in the events planned.

On Wednesday, the CNMI Supreme Court Historical Society will present a luncheon forum on the history of Covenant that established the Commonwealth. The judiciary said members of the Marianas Political Status Commission-the drafters of the Covenant-would be available for a panel discussion at the Dai-Ichi Hotel's Hibiscus Hall beginning at 11:30am. Admission is free.

Demapan said the commission members would share their experiences and insights in drafting the Covenant. Among the commission members who are set to join the forum are Washington Rep. Pedro A. Tenorio, Rota Mayor Benjamin T. Manglona, Vicente N. Santos, Vicente T. Camacho, Oscar C. Rasa, and Manuel A. Sablan.

"We are extremely honored to have these esteemed members of the [commission] share their experiences with us. Their debate and negotiation during the formation of the Covenant is an extremely important part of our history, and we are excited to bring this history to the public," Demapan said.

The CNMI judiciary had also disclosed that various educational seminars would be held for jurists and attorneys. National Judicial College president William Dressel and Nevada Supreme Court Associate Justice Deborah A. Agosti will present a seminar on Ethics for Judges and Justices.

Other seminar presenters include Peggy Vidal, the NDC's director for International Programs, former Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Guy and former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.

The CNMI judiciary had also said that continuing legal education classes would be offered not only to attorneys but also to the public. Limited slots, however, await members of the community.

The dean of the University of Hawaii's William Richardson School of Law, Aviam Soifer, will present a course on legal ethics. Other courses that will be offered include Appellate Practice, Computerized Legal Research, Small Claims, and the U.S.-CNMI Covenant.

May 3, 2004

Saipan Tribune


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