By Bea Cabrera
Saipan-- In January, the House of Representatives impeached Gov. Ralph DLG Torres for alleged corruption and neglect of duty. A month later, the proceedings went underway at the Senate with the adoption of articles of impeachment.
The articles of impeachment contain charges that were the basis for ousting an elected official and Senate minority members questions the revisions made.
Five Senators voted "yes." They were Senate president Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), floor leader Sen.Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan), Sen. Francisco Q. Cruz (R-Tinian). Sen. Victor B. Hocog (R-Rota), and Sen. Karl R. King-Nabors (R-Tinian).
The three who voted "no" were Sens. Teresita A. Santos (Ind-Rota) Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), and Edith E. DeLeon Guerrero (D-Saipan).
The "no" votes wanted to use the same articles of impeachment called ‘Senate Resolution 22-14.’ which was used in the proceedings against former governor Benigno R. Fitial and raised concerns that the final revisions in the articles will only favor Torres and render impeachment case useless.
The circumstances moved minority Senators to get to the bottom of things with Sen. Manglona asking the Senate legal counsel to make a detailed analysis of the articles of impeachment, which some speculated were influenced by Torres.
The Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations chaired by Cruz and the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Government, Law and Federal Relations, chaired by King-Nabors drafted the rules of impeachment but not even one minority member was appointed.
Another argument that minority senators made was the hiring of private lawyer Joe McDoulett as a "special counsel" in the impeachment proceedings. He helped draft the articles.
Rep. Leila Staffler (D-Saipan) said in her public comment at the Senate session said that the Senate should remove any ambiguities from McDoullet's employment as special counsel and his role in the drafting of the articles of impeachment.
“I didn’t know this, but I have come to learn that a ‘special counsel’ virtually always means prosecutor. As defined by Black’s law dictionary: ‘A special counsel is the name given to the attorney who is employed to assist a state or federal attorney general in a prosecution case. A prosecutor, in practice prosecutes, brings legal action against another for a crime, in the name of the government,” she said.
“Yet, Mr. McDoulett’s role appears to have changed the definition of the special counsel here in the Marianas. What is his role? Was it solely to craft these rules? Rules, which the current senate counsel is more than capable to have drafted. Rules that even minority members of this body have not had input in,” she added.
Staffler said the Senate should properly identify McDoulett’s role in the impeachment proceeding.
“Is it his to preside over every impeachment meeting? Is he acting as a pro-se chairman to facilitate these hearings himself? Is counsel McDoulett going to be advising Senate President too? How Mr. McDoulett considered a ‘special counsel’ if they are not bringing legal action against another for a crime in the name of the government?” she asked.
“When I read the rules, I won’t lie, I was shocked at the lengthy procedure that, at any point even prior to the actual impeachment trial proceedings, could disqualify the copious amounts of evidence that show clear and repetitive actions of felonies, corruption and neglect of duty by Governor Torres over several years," Staffer said,
" Without the evidence to back it up, the impeachment process is incomplete. These rules are not fair. They skew in favor of this impeached governor. Senators, we ask you to do what is right for the people. Be fair," Staffer said.
Rep. Celina R. Babauta (D-Saipan) said the House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee used only the House legal counsel and did not hire a private lawyer to act as "special counsel." “The question I ask is, who is providing direct or indirect funding for special counsel Joe McDoulett? Is it the governor? The mayor of Tinian? Or the Senate leadership?”