December 7, 2022

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The Legal System

Senate adopts impeachment rules | News

BY a vote of 5 to 3, the Senate on Thursday adopted the impeachment rules proposed by the Committee on Judiciary, Government, Law and Federal Relations and the Committee on Executive Appointments and Governmental Regulations.

The rules were adopted as Senate Resolution 22-1, which was introduced by Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider, a Republican from Tinian.

Floor amendments were proposed by minority bloc Sens. Edith Deleon Guerrero, a Saipan Democrat, and Paul Manglona, a Rota independent, and put to a vote, but these were rejected, 3 to 5.

Joining Deleon Guerrero and Manglona in voting for the amendments was Rota Independent Sen. Teresita Santos.

Senate Vice President Justo Quitugua, a Saipan Republican, was absent.

The other senators are Republicans Francisco Cruz of Tinan, Victor Hocog of Rota, Karl King-Nabors of Tinian, and Vinnie Sablan of Saipan, the running mate of Republican Gov. Ralph DLG Torres.

Special session

Senate President Hofschneider noted during the session that special counsel Joe McDoulett was retained by his office to assist with the impeachment rules.

For the public comment period of the session, Hofschneider stated that five minutes would be allotted per individual for public comments.

Democrat Rep. Leila Staffler was the first to take the podium, questioning McDoulett’s role as “special counsel,” and opposing the proposed Senate impeachment rules.

“When I looked at the rules, I won’t lie, I was shocked at the lengthy procedure, that at any given point prior to the actual Senate impeachment trial proceedings could disqualify the copious amounts of evidence that show clear and repetitive actions of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty by Governor Torres over these several years. Without the evidence to back it up, the impeachment process is incomplete,” she said.

“Doing what is right is never easy, but it is always the right thing to do. So, senators, we ask that you do what is right for the people: to be fair. These rules? They are not fair. They skew in favor of this impeached governor.”

Democrat Rep. Corina Magofna then stepped up to the podium to also deliver her comments.

“If the Senate body moves forward and adopts the impeachment rules as it is, then you’ll be encroaching and overreaching into the House of Representatives’ abilities to prosecute the case that’s before us. Plain and simple,” she said.

After the public comment period, the senators discussed the proposed impeachment rules.

Senator Santos said for the impeachment trial of former Gov. Benigno Fitial in 2013, the senators “understood that their constitutional mandate was to conduct a fair and impartial hearing, and not to challenge the sufficiency or dismiss the House articles of impeachment.”

Fitial resigned before the Senate could conduct a trial.

Santos questioned the Senate impeachment rules for the trial of Torres.

“Mr. President, I do not understand why the committee chooses to dictate who should serve as the impeachment prosecutor,” she said.

Santos noted that in the U.S. Congress, the impeachment managers are selected by the House speaker.

As for the rule to limit the impeachment prosecutor to just the House legal counsel and staff, Santos said this is “unjust, unethical, unfair, and unreasonable” to the House of Representatives.

“If these overreaching actions were reciprocated, I undeniably doubt that the Senate would consent and tolerate such disregard [for] the separation of the houses of Legislature, and this has been echoed by several members of the House of Representatives,” she added.

She also noted that there were no limitations placed on who the impeached official can have as legal counsel and staff for the impeachment proceedings.

“Again, this is highly biased, partial, and unfair to the House of Representatives… I am not a legal expert, but based on my understanding of the proposed rules, the Senate will not be conducting a fair and impartial trial and, if these rules are adopted, we might not even have a trial at all. The proposed rules are littered with bias. It’s extremely apparent and obvious that the scales of justice have been intentionally tipped to accommodate the impeached,” she said.

According to Sen. Deleon Guerrero, “It is clear that the adopted impeachment rules do not spell justice.”

Senator Manglona likewise opposed the impeachment rules.

Voting in favor of adopting the rules were the Senate president, the Senate floor leader, Hocog, Cruz and King-Nabors.

Those opposed were Deleon Guerrero, Manglona and Santos.

On Jan. 12, 2022, by a vote of 15 to 4 with 1 abstention, the Democrat-Independent-led House impeached the Republican governor for commission of felonies, corruption, and neglect of duty. He has denied the allegations.

He will be removed from office if six members of the Republican-led Senate vote for his conviction.