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Date Set For CNMI Governor’s Impeachment Trial
Senate will begin proceedings into Fitial’s removal on March 7

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 20, 2013) – Northern Marianas’ Governor Benigno R. Fitial's impeachment trial begins on March 7, a week after his seven-day deadline from yesterday to file a written answer to the Senate on the 18 articles of impeachment that the House of Representative leveled against him.

The governor, 68, was served yesterday afternoon with a writ of summons to appear before the Senate and respond to the charges and requests for subpoenas and other documents.

The House impeached Fitial on 18 charges of corruption, felony, and neglect of duty. He is the first governor in the CNMI and any U.S. insular area to be impeached and face trial.

Senate President Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian) told reporters yesterday that the Senate recognizes the magnitude of the task assigned to it.

"It is each member's intention that this entire impeachment process be both expedient and fair," he said.

Senators will hear and consider all 18 articles of impeachment before voting on each one.

At least six affirmative votes or two-thirds of the nine-member Senate are needed to convict the governor on one or more of the 18 charges.

All Senate members will serve as jurors in the trial. They will be assisted by Senate counsels Joe Bermudes and Antonette Villagomez.

The Senate will appoint a judge to preside over the trial on March 7.

"On that day, the House prosecutor will present its case of impeachment and the governor or his counsel will appear before the Senate and present his defense," he added.

Hofschneider said the Senate has written to the Supreme Court chief justice asking to recommend two justices or judges for Senate consideration as presiding judge during the trial.

"On behalf of the Senate, I ask for the public's continued patience and understanding throughout this impeachment process. This is, without a doubt, a serious and unprecedented task set before us, and we are committed to giving it our full attention," Hofschneider added.

The House managers or prosecutor will be led by House Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), main author of the impeachment resolution, along with Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan), and Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), chairman of the committee that reviewed the impeachment resolution in the 18th Legislature. They will be assisted by House counsels Joe Taijeron and John Cool.

Fitial's defense team, however, has yet to be known, although it is believed that he will have at least five counsels from within and outside the CNMI.

Press secretary Angel Demapan, who is back on island, said yesterday that "because the impeachment process has now moved to the Senate for trial, the administration, as it does in cases that are in litigation, will no longer have any comments on this matter."

"The governor's legal team will now be the only appropriate authority to speak on his behalf. The administration's Public Information Office will continue to communicate the regular affairs of the administration to the media and the community," Demapan told Saipan Tribune.

The impeachment trial starting on March 7 will be from 9am to 5pm and is open to the public.

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