Torres strikes back, sues JGO committee for usurping executive authority
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
Saipan--The Democrat-led House Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to hold Republican Gov. Ralph Torres in contempt for refusing to face the panel that is investigating corruption charges against him.
House Speaker Edmund Villagomez is expected to ask the Office of the Attorney General to prosecute the governor for contempt.
The JGO has been investigating the governor for alleged misuse of public funds. The governor was a no-show at the morning hearing scheduled by the JGO committee.
Later in the afternoon, the Office of the Governor filed for declaratory and injunctive relief in the CNMI Superior Court against the JGO.
The governor's lawsuit is seeking:
· A declaration that the subpoena violates Commonwealth statute
· A declaration that enforcement of the subpoena would infringe upon the testimonial immunity conferred by the Commonwealth Constitution
· A declaration that the subpoena lacks a valid legislative purpose, and usurps responsibilities constitutionally delegated to other executive offices
“Filing a lawsuit was not the route I wanted to take but it is a necessary one. As can be seen from today’s committee meeting, the members of the Committee offer nothing but disrespect to the constitution and toxic politics," the governor said.
"Despite all the hate, I am nevertheless still open and willing to discuss an accommodation with the JGO committee and hope that the committee will overcome its toxic politics and join me in reaching a solution.”
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In rejecting the committee's subpoena, Torres invoked the constitution that upholds the equality between the executive and legislative branches of government.
“The office of the governor should not and cannot be subordinated to the legislature, let alone the overreaching acts of an out-of-control committee of the House of Representatives. I do this to protect not only my rights as Governor but to protect the institution of the governor under the Constitution, and thus protect future Governors from arbitrary over-reach by future legislatures,” Torres said in a statement.
He said his office reached out to the committee on Dec. 7 to present his own terms on how he would like to go through the process, but the panel rejected his proposal.
Torres dismissed the JGO's investigation as a political attack pm him and his family.
“Over the course of the past year, we have seen a politically-driven House committee conduct a witchhunt on innocent government employees in order to fulfill their political goals," he said. "We saw certain elected officials censor people for not answering questions in a way that they want, and even hold people in contempt for not cooperating with their agenda.”
The investigation regarding the governor's alleged misuse of government resources began in June.
The committee has questioned Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios with regard to use of public funds; Gary Camacho, executive director of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. with regard to the use of public funds to pay for governor’s personal electric bills; police sergeant Flora Aguon about providing security services to First lady Diann Torres.
William “Wil” Castro, former Guam senator and now governor’s chief of staff, has been asked about trips and meetings with the governor and the first lady Diann Torres and a certain donation to a gathering organized on Guam by the former senator from Gov. Torres.
Last Friday, Public Safety Commissioner Robert A. Deleon Guerrero faced the panel to answer questions about the governor's fishing trips and use to transport cargo from Guam to the CNMI.
“When these elected officials took the oath of office in January, the same oath that I took as governor, they swore to faithfully discharge their duties as public servants," Torres said. "However, as we have seen for months, the House JGO committee has used the House Chamber not for policy debate and deliberation of important issues, but for political intimidation in order to promote their agenda."