CNMI Judge Reinstates Charges Against Former Governor

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Fitial faces 4 criminal charges related to protecting former AG

By Ferdie De La Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, February 3, 2015) – Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman has granted Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George Hasselback’s motion to reconsider his dismissal of the criminal charges against former governor Benigno R. Fitial.

In granting the motion, Wiseman basically reinstated four of the 13 criminal charges against Fitial.

The four counts in the information that will proceed refer to alleged criminal activity associated with the police escort provided former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham in August 2012 that shielded him from being served with penal summons.

Hasselback asserted, among other things, that he has two independent sources of authority to investigate and prosecute those four charges.

Wiseman agreed with Hasselback that OPA has the authority to file the criminal charges against Fitial since he himself [Wiseman] and the Office of the Attorney General granted that authority.

Hasselback cited that on Aug. 17, 2012, Wiseman appointed him special prosecutor "to ensure the fair administration of justice."

Hasselback said the appointment was specifically limited to the investigation and prosecution of matters or persons that are connected to or relevant to the charges filed by the government against Buckingham.

Hasselback also noted that on July 3, 2013, then-AG Joseph Patrick San Nicolas appointed him special assistant attorney general to "complete accounting of the events surrounding Buckingham’s escort.

In Fitial’s opposition to the motion, attorney Stephen Nutting said Wiseman correctly found that OPA’s authority to prosecute "the governor" ceased when he no longer was in office as "the governor."

Nutting said Hasselback’s prior appointment to prosecute "the AG" was not an appointment to prosecute "the governor."

Nutting said Hasselback suggests that Wiseman failed to consider his prior appointment and that was clear error.

In his dismissal order last Nov. 6, Wiseman ruled that OPA has no authority to file the charges against Fitial, now a private citizen, and that the AG retains prosecutorial authority over such an action when the defendant is not currently in office.

OPA filed 13 charges against Fitial. The charges are related to the unauthorized release of a federal inmate, award of a sole-source American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contract, shielding of Buckingham from being served with penal summons, and the execution of a power purchase agreement contract related to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp.

Fitial pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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