CNMI Lawmakers Call For Attorney General’s Termination

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Senate, House members unite to condemn AG Buckingham

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 10, 2012) – Nine House members in the Northern Mariana Islands, including Speaker Eli D. Cabrera, yesterday pre-filed a resolution asking Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to fire Attorney General Edward Buckingham.

Rep. Ralph S. Demapan, Covenant-Saipan and author of House Resolution 17-106, expects more lawmakers to co-sponsor it.

The resolution does not mention the governor’s role in the controversies involving his AG.

Aside from Demapan and Cabrera, R-Saipan, those who signed the resolution were House Minority Leader Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, R-Saipan; Reps. Joseph M. Palacios, R-Saipan; Tony P. Sablan, R-Saipan; Ray N. Yumul, R-Saipan; Janet U. Maratita, R-Saipan; Trenton B. Conner, R-Tinian; and Edmund S. Villagomez, Covenant-Saipan.

Reps. Francisco S. Dela Cruz, R-Saipan, and Ray A. Tebuteb, R-Saipan, are also expected to co-sponsor it.

The leadership members who had not signed it as of 4 p.m. were Vice Speaker Felicidad T. Ogumoro, Covenant-Saipan; House Floor Leader George N. Camacho, Ind.-Saipan; Reps. Stanley T. Torres, Ind.-Saipan; Fredrick P. Deleon Guerrero, Ind.-Saipan; Ramon S. Basa, Covenant-Saipan; Sylvestre I. Iguel, Covenant-Saipan; Raymond D. Palacios, Covenant-Saipan; and Teresita A. Santos, Ind.-Rota.

H.R. 17-106 asks Fitial to "call for the immediate, permanent resignation of Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham."

Because of the "blatant disregard of lawful penal summons" prompting the Superior Court to issue a bench warrant and set a bail of $50,000 against Buckingham, the resolution says the governor should fire the AG.

The resolution said Assistant AG Gilbert Birnbrinch’s representation of Buckingham "demonstrates that the defendant still exercises control and influence over the Office of the Attorney General."

According to the resolution, Birnbrich, "knows or should know that the mandate of the Office of the Attorney General in criminal matters is to prosecute alleged criminals" and not represent criminal defendants.

[PIR editor’s note: Fitial has remained quiet over much of the controversy, claiming any comment made for the time being would be inappropriate. Meanwhile, Superior Court associate judge David Wiseman has directed the Department of Public Safety to arrest Buckingham for failing to appear at the Monday hearing.]

In an interview, Demapan told reporters that H.R. 17-106 was prompted by the Office of Public Auditor’s filing of criminal charges against Buckingham, Department of Public Safety officers’ attempt to block OPA from serving the penal summons and the role of police officers in escorting the AG to the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport on Saturday morning.

Demapan said as chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations, he introduced the resolution "because I believe that freedom and democracy depend on a government of laws which are agreed upon by the people and are enforced with the highest degree of integrity providing no allowances for prejudice or favoritism."

He added, "I am sure that the people of the commonwealth and my fellow members will agree with me that the pride, honor and continuity of our society is hinged upon the principle that no one is above the law — not even the attorney general."

Demapan said based on what he has seen and heard, Buckingham will no longer be respected as an AG because he has tainted the reputation of his office.

"If Mr. Buckingham has lost the confidence of the people, then regardless of the outcome of his criminal case, he is no longer fit to serve the people as their chief law enforcement officer," Demapan said.

In a separate interview, Senate President Paul A. Manglona, Ind.-Rota, said it’s time for the people to restore the integrity of the Office of the Attorney General so the Senate supports the resolution. He also said it is not right for DPS and the Commonwealth Ports Authority to interfere in OPA’s attempt to serve penal summons to a criminal defendant.

Manglona earlier asked Fitial to suspend Buckingham without pay, and explain the police officers’ presence at the airport when Buckingham was leaving the island.

For his part, Sen. Juan M. Ayuyu, Ind.-Rota, said he will ask the House to make H.R. 17-106 a joint resolution so the Senate can pass it as well.

He said obstructing justice is something the Senate cannot tolerate.

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