CNMI Port Police Chief Ordered To Testify In Buckingham Trial

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Sealed testimony to relate to ‘escort’ allowing former AG to depart

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Feb. 17, 2014) – Superior Court Judge Kenneth L. Govendo ordered former Commonwealth Ports Authority Ports Police Chief Jordan Kosam to testify as a defense witness in the ongoing bench trial of former Attorney General Edward Taylor Buckingham III.

Govendo placed Kosam’s testimony under seal, adding the information Kosam testified to will not be used against Kosam, who is separately facing conspiracy charges relating to the "escort" provided by top CNMI law enforcement officials to Buckingham on the evening of Aug. 3 up to Buckingham’s hasty departure at the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport on the early morning of Aug. 4, 2012.

Govendo further said that he will recuse himself from presiding over the case of Kosam, who faces a jury trial to start on Aug. 14, 2014 before Govendo, adding Govendo will also recuse himself from presiding over the case involving Kosam’s co-defendants – former Department of Public Safety Deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro, former CPA Ports Police Capt. John Rebuenog, and Fitial’s former chauffer, Jermaine Nekaifes. The defendants have denied the charges.

There is still a standing warrant for the arrest of Fitial regarding similar charges relating to the elaborate conspiracy to "escort" Buckingham in order to avoid service of a summons and a copy of the criminal complaint initiated by OPA against Buckingham on Aug. 3, 2012.

Prior to the ruling made on Friday, attorney Richard W. Pierce, who represents Buckingham, called Kosam to the witness stand as a defense witness.

Kosam, upon the advice of his attorney, Joaquin Torres, invoked his right to remain silent, after Pierce asked Kosam if he had "any desire" to physically block anyone from serving a summons to Buckingham.

Office of Public Auditor legal counsel George Hasselback, who is prosecuting the case, objected when Pierce began questioning Kosam regarding the validity of the summons being served then to Buckingham. Govendo sustained the objection.

Pierce then moved to present as evidence a video of Kosam’s testimony during the impeachment trial in 2012 of then-Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who resigned on Feb. 20, 2013.

The video was 82 minutes long, Hasselback said, but Pierce claimed it was only 38 minutes, adding that the video was material to Buckingham’s defense.

Hasselback objected, arguing it was hearsay, adding Kosam’s testimony in the video was "leading and very self-serving."

Hasselback said there was no cross examination of Kosam in the video, that the Commonwealth Rules of Criminal Procedure were not observed in the impeachment trial, and the trial was a matter of "first impression" and "unprecedented" in the commonwealth.

Torres, who joined in the trial of Buckingham as counsel for Kosam, told the court that playing the video of Kosam’s testimony during the impeachment trial may prejudice the interests of his client.

Govendo agreed that the matter was of first impression, and put the matter under advisement.

When the court was reconvened after lunch on Friday, Govendo said he was balancing the interests of Buckingham, the commonwealth, and Kosam, who is a defendant in a separate but similar matter.

Govendo ruled that the video would not be played, but ordered Kosam to testify and allowed Hasselback to cross-examine the former CPA official. Govendo said Kosam’s testimony will not be used against him, and placed the hearing under seal.

Hasselback objected, asking the court to reconsider its ruling that has "consequences and its ripples have far-reaching implications in the future."

Hasselback argued that he believed that the statute, 6 Commonwealth of Marianas Code § 6502, did not give the court the authority sua sponte, or on one’s accord, to issue such an order on Kosam’s testimony on the basis of the privilege against self-incrimination, and thus may impact the prosecution of Kosam and his co-defendants and other defendants in other cases who would take a similar approach.

Pierce reversed Hasselback’s arguments relating to Kosam, and applied it to the situation of Fitial’s former chauffer, Nekaifes, who testified for the government against Buckingham.

Torres, for his part, maintained that for his client, Kosam, to testify was "still very scary," and objected, even after Govendo clarified upon inquiry of Torres that Kosam will testify and tell the truth, and there would be no transcript made that will be used against Kosam in his other criminal proceedings.

Kosam earlier testified that "he was not working at that time" on the alleged "escort" of Buckingham to the Saipan international airport, but his job as CPA ports police chief, Kosam said, calls for him to report 24/7.

Kosam described how he "helped" in the processing of Buckingham’s travel documents. "I went on my own course," Kosam said.

Kosam said he "helped" to ensure that Buckingham "went to the proper TSA screening area," referring to U.S. Transportation Security Administration screeners.

Before Kosam was called to the stand, Pierce called to the stand two witnesses who testified via videoconferencing as to the integrity and honesty of Buckingham.

Pierce will continue presenting defense witnesses tomorrow.

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