The congresswoman, who led the impeachment of Gov. Ralph Torres, told senators “The fix is in,” as she lamented draft impeachment trial rules “stacked” in the governor’s favor.
Rep. Celina Roberto Babauta addressed the CNMI Senate during its Monday afternoon session, recited a portion of the Open Government Act requiring transparency in the production of government business, and called impeachment rules proposed by a joint Senate committee “null and void,” because they broke the OGA.
The proposed impeachment rules will govern the conduct of an impeachment trial against Mr. Torres in the Senate that will lead to either the acquittal of the governor on all articles of impeachment, or his removal from office. According to the CNMI Constitution, if at least six of the nine senators vote to convict Torres of any one of the six articles of impeachment against him, he will be removed from office and barred from public office for life.
But that’s if senators ever get to hear evidence against Torres and vote on each charge against him.
Dismissal with prejudice
According to the draft rules, one committee will have the subjective power to determine whether each article meets a so-called threshold for consideration by the Senate. If the committee sends the full Senate a report stating one or more articles do not meet their version of a threshold, then the Senate simply will dismiss the articles with prejudice. That means that those charges can never again be brought against the governor; ever.
Another proposed rule requires the impeachment prosecutor from the House to prove each article with “clear and convincing evidence,” a standard of proof much higher than was used against former Gov. Benigno Fitial.
Ms. Babauta called foul on the Senate attempt to mangle the CNMI Constitution in a clear attempt to release Mr. Torres from being held accountable for his actions.
“Why even have a constitution if the Senate can arbitrarily act against it,” Ms. Babauta said in her remarks before the Senate.
Senate chooses House prosecutor
The proposed Senate impeachment rules don’t even allow the House to choose its own prosecutor. The Senate chooses the prosecutor, according to these rules, by expressly naming the House speaker as the prosecutor. If Speaker Edmund Villagomez, who is not a lawyer, declines, then the rules provide that Vice Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao, the chairman of the House Impeachment Committee, serve as the prosecutor. Mr. Attao also is not a lawyer. If Mr. Attao declines, then the proposed Senate rules state Senate President Jude Hofschneider may choose any member of the House — including any of the five who voted against impeachment — to serve as prosecutor.
While, according to these rules, the prosecution is limited in who its prosecutor may be (even if that means the prosecutor will not be an attorney), Mr. Torres will be allowed to choose whomever he pleases, and has no limit to the number of lawyers he may have defend him.
No trial if transcription not provided in 14 days
None of these matters may even come to pass, according to another provision of the draft rules. Rule 9 will require that the House submit a full transcription of every one of its hearings within 14 days of the passage of the rules, an impossible feat, unless several transcribers are hired, and House Judiciary members work around the clock without breaks to verify transcriptions.
“If the House Impeachment Record is not transmitted to the Senate Clerk within the applicable time frame as extended, then the Senate shall consider the impeachment matter without an impeachment record and the Impeachment Prosecutor shall not be allowed to appear or participate in the Senate proceedings and the Senate hearing in any matter whatsoever,” Rule 9 states. “The Articles of Impeachment shall be presented to the Senate for final verdict and judgement in accordance with Rule 26.”
Rule 26 provides for the final vote on each article of impeachment. Rule 9 states senators will vote on each article of impeachment without any record of evidence upon which to base their vote. Having no evidence, or no “clear and convincing” evidence as proposed by Rule 5, the senators would be required to vote against the impeachment.
In this way, senators facing the wrath of voters this year will be able to tell voters they simply could not vote for impeachment because no evidence was presented, despite thousands of pages of legitimate evidence the House already has sent to the Senate.
Mr. Hofschneider returned the evidence to the House, lecturing Ms. Babauta that the Senate will call upon the House for the documents the Senate desires to see.
“The Senate’s attempt to dictate the number and identity of the House Prosecutor in the proposed Rule violates the CNMI Constitution by usurping the powers of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and House’s sole ability to prosecute the Governor in front of the Senate by unreasonably dictating the manner in which, the House prosecutes the Governor,” Ms. Babauta told the Senate.
Hocog attempts to assault Manglona
This abbreviation of the evidence against Mr. Torres, and the proposed rules that lead to dismissal of charges or that hamper House prosecution of the governor prompted Rota Sen. Paul Manglona to attempt to address the public about the injustice.
Mr. Hofschneider denied Mr. Manglona, had his microphone shut off to prevent the people of the Commonwealth from hearing his speech, then recessed the session and cut the live feed.
During that recess, Mr. Manglona threatened to bring the senators to court, and to enjoin the Senate from violating the constitution with these rules. Sen. Victor Hocog cussed at his Rota colleague and rushed him aggressively. A legislative officer had to restrain Mr. Hocog, while Sen. Edith Deleon Guerrero and Mr. Hofschneider had to calm Hocog.
The fix is in
“The tempers are flaring because a lot of money is at stake,” a source within the CNMI Republican Party told Kandit on condition of anonymity. “If Ralph Torres loses his office, then many of those senators that are trying to protect him will lose access to all of the fancy things – all of the money and resources – that the governor gives them.”
“These rules are so lop-sided and unreasonable that they violate the fundamental tenets of due process,” Ms. Babauta said in her closing remarks to senators. “Only a cheater afraid of the rules of the game stacks the deck with five aces. It is clear that this Senate body will prosecute Governor Torres on a set of rules that are unlawful, unconstitutional and more importantly, slanted in his favor. The fix is in.”
“These rules basically create a theory of how Governor Torres is not guilty and then work backwards from there,” she said.