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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 5) – Former Supreme Court Justice Ramon G. Villagomez, known as a champion of indigenous culture and rights in the Northern Mariana Islands, passed away on Thursday.

Villagomez, 56, had been comatose for about five years. His health failed after joining a historic canoe voyage between Satawal and Saipan in 2000.

"The speaker and governor-elect is saddened by the news of the loss of former Justice Ramon Villagomez, and extends his condolences to the family. The commonwealth has lost an ardent champion of our indigenous culture and legal rights," said House leadership spokesman Charles Reyes Jr. in a statement.

Villagomez retired from the Supreme Court on Dec. 6, 1997 after serving the judiciary for 12 years.

After his retirement, Villagomez became president of the NMI Bar Association.

As a retired justice, Villagomez spent most of his time advocating causes he believed would benefit the Northern Marianas.

He opposed the U.S. military bombings on Farallon de Mendinilla, an uninhabited island north of Saipan, and established the high school mock trial program.

The Supreme Court described the former justice as an "outstanding attorney" and a "dear friend to the commonwealth judiciary."

"The CNMI judiciary expresses its deepest condolences to the family of the late Justice Ramon G. Villagomez. Justice Villagomez was a dear friend to the commonwealth Judiciary and he will be greatly missed," the high court said in a statement.

Associate Justice John A. Manglona referred to Villagomez as "truly avant-garde."

"He had both short-term and long-term visions which were beneficial to the judicial system and the entire commonwealth. He held close to his heart the culture and tradition of the islands and took deliberate steps to make sure that they are passed on to future generations," Manglona said.

December 5, 2005

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