Fitial’s Attorney Defends Governor’s Decision To Commute Sentence

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Fitial’s Attorney Defends Governor’s Decision To Commute Sentence Inos made thoughtful, fair decision; ‘deserves no criticism’

By Ferdie De La Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 7, 2015) – Attorney Stephen J. Nutting, counsel for former governor Benigno R. Fitial, said yesterday that Gov. Eloy S. Inos deserves no criticism in deciding to commute the one-year prison term for Fitial.

Nutting said it was obvious that Inos spent a great deal of time in considering and detailing the numerous factors which supported his decision.

"Certainly, the decision to commute the prison term that was imposed was a great relief to Mr. Fitial and his family and his numerous supporters," said the lawyer in response to Saipan Tribune’s request for comment about the commutation.

Nutting said while a few have spoken out against Inos’ decision, he believes anyone who might read Inos’ decision with the smallest amount of objectivity, would be forced to conclude that the governor’s decision was very fair.

Nutting said Inos was able to balance the harm to the Commonwealth, against the harm to Fitial, as well as weighing the numerous accomplishments Fitial has done for the CNMI throughout his career.

"He has my utmost respect," the lawyer said.

[PIR editor’s note: Saipan Tribune reported that ‘An online petition seeking the recall of Gov. Eloy S. Inos will no longer continue. ... According to citizen activist Glen Hunter, he drafted "the draft petition to recall Inos if he moved forward with a full pardon. He did not and opted for a commutation. ... While I am not at all happy about the removal of the jail time, I am very glad that a full pardon was not granted. I do not intend on finalizing the recall petition. Will someone else? Perhaps," Hunter said.’]

In a phone interview yesterday, Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George Hasselback said he recommended to Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman a sentence what he saw was appropriate for Fitial.

Hasselback said Wiseman imposed a different sentence and Inos substituted his judgment for that of the judge.

Hasselback said Inos believes in his right to do the commutation of Fitial’s sentence.

"Beyond that I don’t have much to say," said the OPA legal counsel who also serves as the special prosecutor in Fitial’s case.

At the sentencing hearing last June 24, Hasselback recommended to slap Fitial with a two-year imprisonment with no parole. Chief prosecutor Leonardo Rapadas recommended a sentence of more than a year in prison.

Wiseman sentenced the 69-year-old Fitial to one year in prison. The former governor was supposed to start serving the prison term yesterday, Monday, but Inos decided on Sunday for the commutation of the jail term.

Fitial signed a plea agreement with the government and pleaded guilty last May 13 to misconduct in public office and conspiracy to commit theft of services, making him the first governor of the CNMI convicted of crimes.

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