Saturday, January 23, 2010

Incident* exposure

Governor Benigno R. Fitial's midnight massage by a federal detainee is turning into exactly the sort of public relations nightmare I expected.

Just when the local media's boilers were losing steam, CNMI Assistant Attorney General David Lochabay has moved to quash the subpoenas** to testify at the Feb. 17 evidentiary hearing. The U.S. Attorney's Office will likely oppose the motion; there may even be a pre-hearing hearing. That should stoke the fires for a few more news cycles.

And we still don't really "know" more than we did a few days after the Marianas Variety broke the story. "Sadly, it is hard to imagine how anyone connected to the incident could avoid the derision and stigma of the public after this media assault," Lochabay writes in the motion. True enough, but the brand is self-inflicted. I truly sympathize with any one experiencing severe back pain. But, really? A masseuse, charged with human smuggling?

Lochabay also suggests that the hearing is nothing more than a fishing expedition for evidence of crimes based, it seems, on Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O'Malley's somewhat neutral response to a reporter's question that "It's way too early to say that. Even if there were, I won't tell you."

Oh, and "agents of the Federal government have already interviewed" Corrections Commissioner Dolores M. Aldan, Lochabay added.

That brings up an interesting issue, assuming that the hearing goes forward. As Lochabay points out "the Commonwealth was, and is, in a decidedly awkward position, being a prime party in interest (Indeed, the real party in interest as it was the Commonwealth's responsibility to maintain custody of Ms. Cheng)"

That wouldn't be much problem for the three Corrections officers, but there is a real possibility of a conflict-of-interest concerning the Commissioner and the Governor (To a lesser extent, based on what we "know" from media reports) if the line of questioning marches into a legal minefield.

So, my train of thought runs exactly opposite to those saying these officials shouldn't be represented by the CNMI Attorney General. In an informal hearing such as this, what's wrong with the AG handling the preliminaries until the feds have tipped their hand? If it gets sticky, it may be in some people's interest to seek their own counsel.

And the media can fire up their boilers again.

* "(This trip to the Governor's house is, hereinafter, the "incident")." -- David Lochabay's motion

** I was looking for news about this motion in the Saipan Tribune, but no luck. Fortunately, Wendy at Unheard No More is all over these court papers-- I stole her link. (The uncharitable have been trashing the Tribune for its coverage. Unfairly, I think, just because they didn't get the original story.)


The Saipan Blogger said...

I've mentioned this in a few other comments, but if I were the governor I'd be looking for the best lawyer money can buy. The Attorney General lost a big case last year to Tina Sablan and she's not even a lawyer. I'd be dialing heaven to see if Johnny Cochran is available. Or whoever is Snoop Dogg's lawyer these days.

KAP said...

That's up to the feds. I don't have enough information.

Meanwhile, it's a continuing disaster politically.

Wendy said...

Hi Kap: You and everyone else, is most welcome to use any link that I post. I post the links so that more people can read original documents and come to their own conclusions. "Steal" away!

Jay said...

The Trib is being soft on this "incident" and when they do, they've played catch-up; I don't criticize them because they got scooped.

RE: AG Representation
AGs are supposed to represent the state/territory and the office(s), not the individual. The individuals here would be vastly better served to obtain private counsel, esp. if the AG has to speak for two respondents (Gov & Aldan) whose stories don't quite gel.

KAP said...

The Tribune has published the basic facts. Both papers spin in a partisan direction-- that's not news.

The media and mob fuss has obscured the fact that this is about Qingmei Cheng. She has been all-but convicted in the press of the smuggling charge and of prostitution loitering, maybe because of her occupation or because of her nationality. Horey has been (commendably) quiet in public but he's bound to bring up the prejudicial publicity. He might also claim entrapment: I could probably lasso a dozen or two people if I said I had access to a boat. Do you think law enforcement agencies never step over the boundaries?

The prosecution is understandably upset that the defendant had contact with outside parties. They may be satisfied with the explanations (if there is a hearing), in which case nobody would need private counsel.

You might want to focus your outrage on the private use of government resources, though that's hardly a hot-button issue here. Streetlights, coral for rosaries and such, trucked-in water, road grading; you name it, it happens all of the time. Just last week a man (who hadn't even heard of the hullabaloo BTW) told me his neighbor was getting water pumped out of a fire truck. He clammed up when I started asking questions.

Saipan Writer said...

Jed Horey is also a person who may need to think about conflicts of interest. He represented Dolores SN Aldan and her group of "indigenous" in the fight against federalization; and his firm still represents her on a recently filed business/lease case.

If his Chinese client can cut a better deal by ratting out Dolores (I have no idea if there are any such facts) or needs advice on her rights as a detainee, how could Jed provide that given his firm's current on-going duty to Aldan?

Just a question.