Former CNMI governor says OAG breached procurement rules; Prosecutor says 'Look who's talking'
By Bryan Manabat
Saipan-- Former CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is accusing the Office of the Attorney General of violating procurement regulations when it hired an outside attorney to prosecute his public misconduct case related to his first-class travels when he was in office.
But the AG’s office fired back, saying Torres used the same procurement regulations to hire his defense attorneys to represent him when he was the sitting governor. Torres hired his brother, Victorino Torres, Viola Alepuyo, Anthony Aguon and Matthew Holley.
Torres has petitioned the Superior Court to review the CNMI Department of Finance’s refusal to declare the validity of the OAG’s contract with Texas attorney James Robert Kingman.
The special prosecutor’s contract does not comply with the procurement regulations, Torres’ petition said.
Kingman was initially hired by the AG’s office as a special prosecutor designated to handle Torres’ case.
On June 20, Gov. Arnold I. Palacios informed the legislature that he had approved Kingman’s employment as an assistant attorney general with an annual salary of $85,000.
The AG’s office later announced that Kingman will head a task force that will investigate and prosecute government corruption and white-collar crimes.
The finance department and the AG's office asked the court to dismiss Torres’ petition, arguing that the former governor failed to exhaust his administrative remedies.
“The purpose of the petition is to void the special prosecutor’s contract in an attempt to disqualify him from prosecuting Mr. Torres,” Chief Solicitor Robby Glass Jr. said. “Mr. Torres himself procured numerous attorneys during his tenure as governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.”
Glass also asked the court to allow the AG's office to depose the former governor to determine the cost shouldered by the CNMI taxpayers when he hired four defense attorneys while trying to dodge a legislative subpoena last year.
“The OAG believes that Mr. Torres does not come before this court with clean hands and believes a deposition is required in order to fully ascertain the facts and circumstances of Mr. Torres' procurement of attorneys while governor of the commonwealth,” Glass said.
“In order to bring such a claim, Mr. Torres will need to have not himself violated such procurement regulations. While the documents from the Department of Finance and the Office of the Governor may provide some insight into the procurement of his attorneys, there are still many questions that only Mr. Torres himself can answer in regard to his procurement and payment of attorneys to represent him and the Office of the Governor in his numerous legal battles over the past years,” he said.
In seeking the dismissal of Torres' petition, Glass said the case was not ripe for judicial decision and that the former governor lacked standing as he was not aggrieved by the contract based on his assertion that he is being unlawfully prosecuted.
The OAG acknowledges that the dismissal of the case would moot the motion for deposition, but should the court deny the motion to dismiss, the motion for deposition becomes important for properly presenting all defenses and compiling the appropriate record for review.