Former AG Buckingham Rebuked By CNMI Judge

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Outside jurisdiction, Buckingham denied court relief

By Andrew O. De Guzman

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 15, 2013) – Superior Court Judge David A. Wiseman yesterday rebuked former Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham for seeking relief, but without submitting to the court’s jurisdiction.

Wiseman denied Buckingham’s request submitted by his local counsel, Brien Sers Nicholas, to schedule hearing dates for the former AG’s pending criminal case initiated by the Office of Public Auditor in Aug. 2012.

Wiseman said Buckingham "is still absent from [the] court’s jurisdiction."

Buckingham "remains disentitled from having the court consider any motion or argument on his behalf," according to Wiseman’s two-page order yesterday.

The court’s position was explained in Wiseman’s standing orders issued on Sept. 11 and Sept. 29, 2012, and the Dec. 2012 CNMI Supreme Court ruling that upheld the trial court’s determination that Buckingham is a fugitive from justice, and thus not entitled to any relief from the court.

"Furthermore, absent extraordinary circumstances…[the] court will entertain no further motions from [Buckingham]," Wiseman said.

Wiseman said the court may reconsider its position if Buckingham appears in court, or Wiseman is informed that Buckingham and the CNMI government "have reached to propose, for the court’s consideration, a mutual agreement to revisit, modify and/or rescind [the] court’s previous orders."

In rebuking Buckingham, Wiseman said, "Further use of [the] court’s time and resources in filings that do not comport with these conditions shall not be tolerated."

Earlier, Gov. Benigno R. Fitial speculated that Buckingham, in submitting the ex-parte request for a status conference to set dates, wants to return on his own.

OPA legal counsel George Hasselback has recommended to the Fitial administration that it extradite Buckingham.

It was also Hasselback who charged and is prosecuting Buckingham in the Superior Court.

Sers Nicholas asked the court "to schedule a status conference" regarding the case "at the earliest possible time to enable the setting of dates for [Buckingham’s] arraignment, for the hearing of his pretrial motions, and for his trial if one should become necessary."

In a footnote, Sers Nicholas said, the court has been made aware that Buckingham "is presently undergoing medical treatment while trying to accommodate [the] court’s concerns, not to mention his right to a fair and speedy trial."

"[T]here exists a real need to come up with a workable schedule (timing wise) that not only addresses [the] court’s concerns but also those of Buckingham’s health vis-à-vis his schedule of treatments," Sers Nicholas said.

On Dec. 31, 2012, the CNMI Supreme Court denied Buckingham’s petition for a rehearing of the court’s opinion denying his petition for writs of mandamus and prohibition because, the court said, Buckingham failed to point to any facts or law that the Court overlooked or misapprehended in its previous opinion.

The CNMI Supreme Court on Dec. 5, 2012 denied Buckingham’s petition to overturn Judge Wiseman’s order declaring Buckingham, the former AG, a fugitive from justice.

Former AG Buckingham hastily left Saipan on Aug. 4, 2012, several hours after OPA filed criminal charges against him in the Superior Court.

Prior to Buckingham’s departure, the Federal Bureau of Investigation served a penal summons on Buckingham at the Saipan International Airport, where Buckingham was being guarded by Department of Public Safety and Commonwealth Port Authority police officers.

Buckingham didn’t appear for his arraignment on Aug. 6, 2012 before Judge Wiseman.

Citing the former AG’s "open and flagrant violation of a court order," Wiseman issued a bench warrant against Buckingham, and declared the former AG a fugitive of justice. Bail was set at $50,000.

OPA legal counsel George Hasselback charged Buckingham with one count of use of public supplies, services, time and personnel for campaign activities; one count of use of the name of a government department or agency to campaign and/or express support for a candidate running for public office; two counts of misconduct in public office, one count of failure to produce documents or information; one count of obstructing justice for interference with service of process, and misconduct in public office.

Buckingham has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is ready to face the charges against him.

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