CNMI JUDGE FACES SANCTIONS FOR COURTROOM REMARKS

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Govendo made threats, threw insults

By Ferdie de la Torre SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 1, 2010) - The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Supreme Court has found Superior Court associate judge Kenneth Govendo’s use of "adios muchacho" and two others statements in court to be racially derogatory and a violation of canons and rules for judicial conduct.

"Threats and racially derogatory insults are not the hallmark of a judge who is calm and collected, but one who is unable to control his temper when faced with difficult parties," said the high court’s ruling penned by Chief Justice Miguel S. Demapan, associate justice Alexandro C. Castro, and justice pro tem Edward Manibusan.

In granting special ethics prosecutor Bruce A. Bradley’s motion for summary judgment, the justices pointed out that threats and insults are inappropriate and demonstrate that Govendo has difficulty controlling his temper.

In a footnote to their order, the justices noted that Govendo repeatedly raised his voice at Demapan during the hearing for this motion, and at times would speak over the chief justice.

Sanctions against Govendo will be determined in a hearing on Oct. 15, 2010.

Saipan Tribune contacted Govendo yesterday for comments, but his staff said he would respond via email. He had yet to respond as of press time.

The disciplinary case against Govendo arose from a November 2008 decision issued by Superior Court associate judge Ramona Manglona where she cited Govendo for allegedly violating the "principles of decorum and temperance."

Manglona then wrote a letter to Demapan, alleging that Govendo violated the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3B(9).

Manglona’s letter mentioned Govendo’s statement in open court during a family law case against Roger Castillo, a defendant in a domestic violence case.

In that hearing, Govendo told Castillo he is going to call the Office of the Attorney General and recommend that Castillo be prosecuted. Govendo had also said he is going to make it his personal journey to make Castillo leave the CNMI.

"We have enough problem children here from the P.I. and it’s time we get rid of them. .I am going to recommend that you be prosecuted. I am going to personally take this on myself, Mr. Castillo. I want to see you leave the Northern Mariana Islands. And when you leave, I will be at the airport to go ‘adios muchacho! Don’t come back!" Govendo said.

P.I. is an archaic abbreviation for the Philippines; it stands for Philippine Islands.

Govendo also cited native residents involved in domestic violence.

"We don’t need perpetrators of domestic violence here. I wish I could get rid of the locals but I can’t. They’re American citizens. But the ones who are not, there’s no reason why we should have to put up with them," he had said.

Demapan appointed retired Guam judge Richard H. Benson as an investigating judge to determine if the allegations warranted further action by the CNMI High Court.

Benson found that Govendo did make the statement to Castillo, and determined that it violated Commonwealth Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3A(2) and 3A(3), and Commonwealth Rule of Judiciary Disciplinary Procedure 6(a)(3).

Benson also found that, in two other cases, Govendo made statements that violate Rule 6(a)(3).

In one adoption case, Govendo stated he was not going to "approve adoptions with nieces and nephews because the are millions of them all over in the Philippines who can get a better education here."

"Picture all the Filipinos here, every single one of them, has got [sic] five nieces and nephews, back in the Philippines, we would quote ‘be better off here.’ So all you have to do [is], get married to an Americano, beg him, and he’ll adopt them," Govendo said.

In the other statement, Govendo asked a petitioner: "Are there any other kids in the Philippines that you would like to adopt? ...No more? You sure? ...Oh, c’mon. Just about every Filipino here wants to adopt some relative, right?"

After receiving Benson’s recommendation, the High Court appointed Bradley to prosecute the matter. Govendo represented himself.

In his answer, Govendo admitted making the Castillo statement, but in the adoption cases he neither admitted nor denied making the statements.

At oral argument, however, Govendo admitted to making all of the statements but took the position that the statements do not constitute violations of any of the canons or rules of judicial conduct.

Govendo insisted that, due to Castillo’s history of threatening his wife, his total disregard for the court’s orders, and his failure to show the court any respect, he was justified in using threatening and degrading language to coerce Castillo into compliance and protect the victim.

In their order issued Wednesday, the justices found the argument unconvincing.

"The palpable fear of a victim or a defendant’s repeated failure to comply with court orders never justifies a judge’s failure to maintain order and decorum in a courtroom, or justifies a judge in acting without patience, dignity, or courtesy," the justices said.

With respect to his statement to Castillo, the justices said threatening a party with criminal proceedings, deportation, and using racially derogatory language such as "adios muchacho" is inappropriate.

The justices said in Chamorro the word "muchacho/muchacha" means lad, house-boy/girl; servant; maid, and the use of the word may be offensive in some circumstances.

They said Govendo’s statement to Castillo could lead a reasonable impartial observer to conclude that the word "muchacho" is being used in an offensive-demeaning context.

"Such language does not foster the necessary courtroom order and decorum required by Canon 3A(2)," the justices said.

They said Govendo’s statement made to Castillo degraded the order and decorum of his court and, by making it, the judge failed to show the required patience, dignity, and courtesy.

As for the two statements in the adoption cases, the justices said recommendation makes clear that the use of a racial descriptor is acceptable, but when combined with race-based stereotypes, such statements create the appearance of racial prejudice.

The justices said the three statements demonstrate a pattern of Govendo being intemperate by making racially inappropriate remarks.

They said the statements in the adoption proceedings create the appearance that Govendo is suspicious of adoptions by Filipinos.

"As stated by Judge Govendo, all Filipinos supposedly want to bring relatives to the CNMI to give them a better life. This is extremely inappropriate language," the justices said.

The justices said they do not believe that Govendo acted because he is racist, and neither the recommendation nor the prosecutor made such an argument.

"Judge Govendo’s choice of words, however, creates the appearance of a pattern of racial basis, and this is unacceptable," the justices added.

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