2 Misconduct Counts Against Former CNMI AG Dropped

admin's picture

Edward Buckingham’s bench trial to begin on Feb. 10

By Andrew O. De Guzman

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 22, 2014) – Superior Court Judge Kenneth L. Govendo yesterday granted the motion of the Office of Public Auditor to dismiss two counts of misconduct in office against former CNMI Attorney General Edward Taylor Buckingham III involving the controversial sole-source ARRA and Saipan Development LLC power-plant contracts.

Buckingham’s bench trial will start on Feb. 10, 2014, Govendo added.

It was previously scheduled to start on Feb. 4.

Buckingham, who returned to Colorado after posting $50,000 bail in Superior Court in May 2013, waived his right to a jury trial.

On Dec. 16, 2013, Govendo granted the stipulation that was signed by Buckingham, attorney Richard W. Pierce, who represents the former CNMI official, and OPA legal counsel George L. Hasselback, who is prosecuting the case.

The former AG is still facing two felony and eight misdemeanor charges, Hasselback said.

Govendo will hear oral arguments on Buckingham’s motions to dismiss information and to suppress fruits of search next Tuesday.

Buckingham earlier summoned Judge Joseph N. Camacho, a candidate in the 2010 delegate elections, as among the defendant’s witnesses.

When asked about the subpoena, Camacho said: "I will follow the law and appear as a witness. I will tell the truth on any question asked."

In his opposition to Buckingham’s motion to dismiss information, Hasselback told the court: "Contrary to [Buckingham’s] assertions…, the commonwealth never sought to criminalize legal opinions, whether they were open to reasonable debate, patently incorrect or somewhere in-between."

Hasselback added, "On the contrary, the commonwealth sought to hold a public official (in this instance, the top attorney for the CNMI, who is sworn to uphold the laws of this jurisdiction) criminally liable for willfully and knowingly providing legal opinions that he knew were contrary to CNMI law. The commonwealth intended to prove that, despite knowing that certain contracts were contrary to CNMI law, and having been told as much by subordinate attorneys who were assigned the task of determining the legality of those contracts, the then Attorney General certified that those contracts complied with all applicable CNMI laws and regulations in that the CNMI had the legal capacity to enter into those contracts. Having proven this, the commonwealth intended to argue that this course of behavior violated 6 CMC § 3202 and that [Buckingham] should be found guilty of the crime of misconduct in office."

"However," Hasselback said, "the commonwealth has determined, after review of current CNMI law regarding duties of the attorney general vis-à-vis certification of the CNMI’s ‘capacity’ to contract, that it is in the best interests of justice to dismiss Count Five and Count Twelve of the second amended information with prejudice."

In a footnote, Hasselback told the court: "Given that such a contract has been described as ‘subject to rescission,’ it appears that the CNMI has the ‘capacity’ to enter into a contract that violates its own laws and/or regulations. Given that the attorney general’s duties are limited to certifying contracts as to ‘form and capacity,’ Counts Five and Twelve should be dismissed. As absurd as this may be, it seems that the CNMI attorney general can meet the technical demands of his duty to review contracts while approving contracts that flagrantly violate CNMI law/or regulation under the current laws of our jurisdiction," referring to local case law.

Nine months after fleeing the CNMI, Buckingham returned to Saipan on May 28, 2013, to ans­wer the charges before Superior Court Judge David A. Wiseman who then "cured" Buckingham’s fugitive status.

On June 4, 2013, Judge Govendo, the judge assigned to the case, allowed Buckingham to travel to Colorado for medical treatment.

Buckingham has denied the charges against him, including those relating to the "meet and greet" political gathering he organized at the Gualo Rai residence of then-Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, and his evasion of service of a penal summons on Aug. 3 and 4, 2012.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment