Former governor’s lawyers argue governors are above prosecution

Ralph Torres is trying to avoid facing a jury for multiple crimes he allegedly committed by having his lawyers argue that as the governor, he was able to commit crimes and was technically immune from being prosecuted for them.

Viola Alepuyo – one of Mr. Torres’ lawyers – argued before Judge Arthur Barcinas in the former governor’s criminal corruption case that Mr. Torres cannot be charged in his personal capacity for crimes committed in his official capacity as the governor.

Ms. Alepuyo’s logic would read this way regarding the evidence Mr. Torres illegally used public funds to fly first class several times while he was governor:

  • CNMI law makes it illegal for any person to use government funds to travel on first or business class.
  • On multiple occasions, Mr. Torres used public funds to fly first and business class for government purposes.
  • Mr. Torres wasn’t just any person. He was the governor at the time the law was broken, so therefore he can’t be personally charged for breaking the law.

The same logic would apply to the other crimes Mr. Torres is alleged to have committed as the governor, such as his alleged contempt of the legislature and theft of public funds.

And while Mr. Barcinas allowed the argument, it was not the subject of Monday’s hearing, the latest in a nearly-two-year old criminal case the Torres team has managed to delay this far.

James Kingman

“That was not within the topic or scope of yesterday’s hearing,” prosecutor James “Jim” Kingman said in reaction to Ms. Alepuyo’s open-court assertion that her client can’t be prosecuted for breaking the law while governor.

Indeed, the Monday hearing was to help bring closure to an issue Mr. Torres has been fighting for since May 2, 2022: the disqualification of the Office of the Attorney General and its prosecutor on this case, Mr. Kingman. That motion was ruled upon August 23 last year. Eight months later, Ms. Alepuyo filed a motion for the court to reconsider its ruling. That was on April 6 this year.

Monday was the opportunity for the attorneys to argue their points on the motion for reconsideration and the two replies that followed, all in April.

“As real as a three-dollar bill”

Ed & Daisy Propst

“At what point does Judge Barcinas stop the nonsensical stalling tactics and set a real court date for the trial?” Edwin Propst, the Floor Leader of the Commonwealth House of Representatives lamented.

Mr. Propst has, for years, been one of the leading voices against the corruption of the Torres administration. His protests against Mr. Torres and the CNMI Republican Party were so damaging, its political machine targeted him in the election of 2020, shortly before his soon-to-be-colleague Celina Roberto Babauta began the legislative investigation that predicated the criminal charges against Mr. Torres. That investigation, however, was preceded by an inquiry in 2020 started by then-Congresswoman Cristina “Tina” Sablan into documents Ms. Babauta gathered as a concerned citizen and provided to Kandit.

Kandit provided those documents – hundreds of pages of receipts, transactions, invoices, and more – that showed evidence of theft, fraud, illegal travel, and corruption, to Ms. Sablan.

Mr. Torres was the governor at the time and through early January this year. He was finally impeached by the House in 2022, but his cronies in the Senate blocked any semblance of a just trial and failed to remove him from office despite the strong evidence of corruption.

Throughout the impeachment period, Mr. Torres and his cronies, including his backers in the media, continuously argued that the political process was the wrong venue to dispose of the allegations against Torres and that if crimes had been committed, the matter should be brought before a criminal court.

Thus, the Office of the Attorney General filed criminal charges against Mr. Torres.

Now, Mr. Torres argues he can’t be prosecuted for crimes committed in his capacity as the governor, through the assertions of his lawyer, Ms. Alepuyo.

“Her assertion is about as real as a three dollar bill,” Mr. Propst said.

“No one is above the law”

Celina Babauta

Ms. Babauta, who led the investigation that was the forerunner to the articles of impeachment and then a second investigation into even more evidence of corruption by Mr. Torres, agreed with Mr. Propst about Mr. Torres’ new attempt to avoid prosecution.

She said:

“It is absolutely absurd to think that Ralph Torres can not be prosecuted in his personal capacity for alleged crimes he committed while in office. 

“CNMI statutes, 6 CMC Subsection 3202, defines Misconduct in Public Office as a crime that is committed by a public official if the person does any illegal act under the color of office.”

“No one is above the law.”


  • Che'lun-miyu

      12/20/2023 at 7:53 AM

    Alepuyo posited an argument that wasn’t even required for the hearing in question and in the process revealed to us how delusional and desperate Ralphie’s team is to pull him out of his own grave. No one is above the law.

    • Last week, Gov. Palacios described the CNMI as being in Desperate Mode.

      Wanna see REAL Desperate Mode? The Torres defense team. They’re out of options.

      I smile to myself.

  • If they can prosecute a past US President, a past NMI Gov. certainly has no immunity against prosecution.
    Also there has been a whole list of past Gov. in the US that have been prosecuted and convicted while in office and also after they resigned from office.

    It is too bad that this Judge Barcinas cannot be removed from this case as he has repeatedly shown he is playing Ralphy games and favorable to Torres.
    I wonder what political party Barcinas belongs to and if he in the past had associated with Ralphy on trips to Guam?

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