Former CNMI Governor Fitial Makes First Court Appearance

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Judge to allow release on bond, may impose travel restrictions

By Ferdie de la Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 30, 2014) – Former governor Benigno R. Fitial will personally make an initial appearance in Superior Court today, Wednesday, at 1:30 pm, according to Fitial’s lawyer, Stephen Nutting.

In a phone interview yesterday, Nutting said that Associate Judge David A. Wiseman has preliminarily approved a US$50,000 property bond for Fitial to be released on his own recognizance.

Nutting said they will be discussing at the hearing what sort of travel restrictions, if any, will be placed on the former governor while proceedings are pending.

The lawyer said the Office of the Public Auditor has yet to file formal charges against Fitial as of yesterday, so there will be no arraignment.

Nutting said they expect OPA to file the information in "the very near future," after which they will know what charges are going to be brought and then they will be given the opportunity to enter a plea.

"Negotiations are ongoing, but there is no agreement at the moment," said Nutting when asked if OPA has offered a plea agreement.

OPA legal counsel George Hasselback earlier told reporters that they have yet to file formal charges against Fitial but added that they will file them "pretty soon."

"The goal is and has always been to return a criminal defendant to the Commonwealth and have that person face the charges here in Superior Court," Hasselback said. That goal, he added, has been accomplished, with no expenses to the Commonwealth.

Fitial is facing criminal charges for allegedly shielding former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham from being served with penal summons last year.

Fitial returned to Saipan from the Philippines on Saturday, four days before his April 30 court appearance.

Fitial resigned as governor on Feb. 21, 2013. He and his wife Josie then left the CNMI.

Upon Nutting’s request last March 17, Wiseman quashed the arrest warrant he issued against Fitial and directed the former governor to voluntarily appear in court today, Wednesday, at 1:30 pm.

Last Feb. 19, Associate Judge Kenneth Govendo found Buckingham guilty of all public corruption charges except one and sentenced him to 3.5 years in prison, all suspended.

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