CNMI AG resigns, Ms. Viola Alepuyo named acting AG

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Commonwealth of Northern  Marianas (CNMI) Governor Benigno R. Fitial has appointed former CNMI Retirement Fund legal counsel Viola Alepuyo as acting attorney general after Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham resigned again.  Press Secretary Angel A. Demapan told reporters that Buckingham tendered his resignation for the second time since he left two weeks ago “due to personal and medical reasons.”  Demapan said the governor accepted Buckingham’s resignation which took effect immediately.  Demapan said the governor anticipates that the former AG will not return to the CNMI and face the charges against him.

Fitial in a statement said, “In the days that followed Buckingham’s initial announcement of his intent to resign, he became the subject of retaliation through what obviously appeared as a rushed filing of charges against him.”  According to the governor, “These events cast unnecessary cloud over the Office of the Attorney General. So in an effort to ensure that [it] can move forward with its duties, I have accepted Buckingham’s immediate resignation.

“Now that the AG has resigned, the Office of the Attorney General must continue to faithfully serve the people of the commonwealth. To ensure that the stability and direction is maintained, I have appointed Viola Alepuyo to serve as acting attorney general.”

PHOTO (sAIPAN TRIBUNE): RETIREMENT BILLS: NMI Retirement Fund board of trustees legal counsel Viola Alepuyo, second from left, gestures as she addresses members of the Senate Committee on Fiscal Affairs, while Fund board trustee Marian Tudela, left, administrator Richard Villagomez, and board trustee Francisco Rosario, right, listen during a Senate committee hearing on retirement bills yesterday afternoon. (PHOTOGRAPHER: Haidee V. Eugenio)


[MARIANAS VARIETY via PACNEWS]

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Buckingham resigns, again; Viola Alepuyo named acting AG

GOVERNOR Benigno R. Fitial yesterday appointed former NMI Retirement Fund legal counsel Viola Alepuyo as acting attorney general after Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham resigned again. Press Secretary Angel A. Demapan told reporters that Buckingham tendered his resignation for the second time since he left two weeks ago “due to personal and medical reasons.” Demapan said the governor accepted Buckingham’s resignation which took effect immediately.

Demapan said the governor anticipates that the former AG will not return to the CNMI and face the charges against him. Fitial in a statement said, “In the days that followed Mr. Buckingham’s initial announcement of his intent to resign, he became the subject of retaliation through what obviously appeared as a rushed filing of charges against him.”

According to the governor, “These events cast unnecessary cloud over the Office of the Attorney General. So in an effort to ensure that [it] can move forward with its duties, I have accepted Mr. Buckingham’s immediate resignation.

“Now that the AG has resigned, the Office of the Attorney General must continue to faithfully serve the people of the commonwealth. To ensure that the stability and direction is maintained, I have appointed Viola Alepuyo to serve as acting attorney general.”

Senate President Paul A. Manglona, Ind.-Rota, believes Buckingham “saw the writings on the wall.”

“He knows that there’s no way he can defend what happened last week,” Manglona said, referring to the former AG’s leaving the island — with police escort — despite the charges filed against him.

The Senate president said the former AG was caught in a situation where he had to play politics.

“But he now knows he cannot survive the governor’s political game so that was a good decision on his part,” Manglona said referring to Buckingham’s resignation for the second time.

But Manglona criticized Fitial’s appointment of “so many people” in an acting capacity.

“I don’t know what is going on with this governor. I’m concerned with what has been going on in our government with so many acting heads and so many emergency declarations,” Manglona said.

He said the governor should have nominated a new AG.

The government, he added, cannot be run by “acting” officials. This is why no one among them pays attention to the pressing issues facing the CNMI, he said.

The Departments of Public Safety, Public Lands and Public Works have been headed by acting secretaries over the last few months now.

Demapan, in a press conference, said Fitial will nominate a new AG before the end of Alepuyo’s 90-day term as acting attorney.

Buckingham and his wife Pam are now in San Francisco, California. He announced his resignation for the first time on Aug. 2, saying he planned to leave the islands on Aug. 5.

On Aug. 3, Office of the Public Auditor legal counsel George Hasselback charged Buckingham with two counts of misconduct in public office and two counts of violation of CNMI ethics and election laws.

On the early morning of Aug. 4 Buckingham and his wife boarded a Delta flight to Narita, Japan. They were escorted to the airport by Department of Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro, Fitial’s security aide Jermaine Nekaifes, ports police and DPS officers.

OPA investigators had to ask the Federal Bureau of Investigation to serve the penal summons to Buckingham before he could leave the island.

Judge David Wiseman later issued a bench warrant against Buckingham and set bail at $50,000.

Demapan said Buckingham wanted to defend himself in court, but after undergoing medical checkup, “he has determined now that he has to resign immediately to take care of his personal and medical considerations.”

Demapan said Alepuyo will have to determine if the AGO can represent Buckingham in the court.

Alepuyo will review the charges against Buckingham, and may have to “draw the line somewhere.”

“We anticipate that Ms. Alepuyo will be able to make that determination,” Demapan said.

Asked about Alepuyo’s conflict of interests because one of the charges against Buckingham involves her husband, Judge Joseph N. Camacho, Demapan said the administration expects Alepuyo to recuse herself specifically from matters involving Buckingham.

“Ms. Alepuyo is a professional attorney and she knows very well when it’s time to recuse herself and yield to other attorneys in the AGO. And when the time comes in matters specific to that, we anticipate that Ms. Alepuyo will make a decision to the affect,” Demapan said.

A government attorney who requested anonymity said Alepuyo will have to recuse herself from so many issues, including the NMI Retirement Fund, because she is its former legal counsel, and the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission of which she is a former member.

Alepuyo thanked Fitial and Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos for giving her the opportunity to serve as acting AG.

In his statement, Alepuyo said she can only follow the CNMI Constitution and the law.

She said the attorney general’s duties and responsibilities are limited to legal matters of the commonwealth. “Matters of public policy or politics are not an area the Office of Attorney General and should never be over-lapping with its legal duties.”

Alepuyo vowed transparency.

“To the extent possible when I am able to make public any information on matters and issues, the Office of the Attorney General will issue a press release,” she said.

Regarding Buckingham, Alepuyo said the matter is now before the court.

“Let the Office of the Public Auditor and Mr. Buckingham’s privately retained attorney handle that matter,” she added.

As to the “escorts” provided by DPS and the Commonwealth Ports Authority to Buckingham, the acting AG said: “Let the respective law enforcement agency conduct and complete their investigation.”

“Just like any case, the Office of the Attorney General awaits the case to be forwarded for review and prosecution, if warranted,” she said.

To the attorneys and staff of the AGO, Alepuyo said: “We have enormous challenges ahead of us. Let us stabilize the office. Let us assess the crisis and what needs to be done. I want you all to know that I work long hours. I like to be prepared and knowledgeable about the issues and cases. I expect the people in the office to work hard and know their respective cases and assignment.”

Alepuyo also said that when the governor asked her if she would want to serve as acting AG, she took some time to ask some people their thoughts on the matter.

“I received advice from many people. One person said he hated the governor and warned me not to take the position and let the whole administration just burn to the ground. A few said it wasn’t my problem and I should not get involved,” she said.

She was even asked why she would take a position for which she will be “publicly ridiculed and criticized.”

Some people advised her to “stay in private practice and just make money.”

But others told her that if she can help, “especially now when we really need it the most — please do your best to help.”

The CNMI, Alepuyo said, “is our home. And if our home is our castle, then in time of danger and crisis, we do not retreat and run away from our castle. We rise up and defend our castle. We rise to the challenge to save our home. We rise to save our CNMI.”

She added, “I humbly ask the public for their prayers and patience, the challenges are great and resources are limited. The work that needs to be done cannot happen overnight. But it most definitely will not happen if we simply do nothing. Let us then begin the work that needs to be done.”

Yesterday, Variety asked OPA legal counsel George Hasselback on Buckingham’s resignation. He declined to comment.

[MARIANAS VARIETY NEWS  By Emmanuel T. Erediano - Reporter]