Friday, April 24, 2009

Brief Reflections on the Trial of the Day

Ed Propst is reporting that the jury has already returned a verdict in the case against Lieutenant Governor Timothy Villagomez. According to Ed, guilty on all charges.

He says guilty on all charges in the cases against the co-conspirators, too. Confirmed. (thanks to Wendy for the cite).

I think we're all relieved. The rydlyme deal stank through and through, but that's not the same as being enough to convict on federal charges. There's also been a history of difficulty in getting guilty verdicts in cases involving corruption of public officials in the CNMI. We've seen others charged with cheating on construction contracts and such, and no convictions.

So I'm relieved that the jury was convinced by the evidence and strong enough to do what they found right.

I was most offended by the closing argument that included the phrase "choose the local mango." This was a thinly disguised attempt to turn back the clock to the time when being a Chamorro meant people owed you allegiance, especially against the US government. I'm glad that we have jurors who don't want a rotten mango at all, no matter what its origin.

I think the counsel for the accused (and now guilty) defendants seriously misjudged the mood of the jury and the people in the community. People are tired of powerful local politicians abusing their positions, enriching themselves, and causing the rest of us to suffer. Accusing Antonio Guerrero of being a patsy for the feds when he is just another regular guy being ill-used by them was incredibly offensive. The man was obviously working very hard to clear his guilty conscience. Describing FBI agent Dana McMahon as looking like a sheep but really being a wolf was another stupid ploy. She didn't testify and it was clear that the defendants were looking for any scapegoat they could get.

And the other closing arguments suggesting that the US federal government isn't "us" were also offensive. Just last November we elected a Delegate to serve in the US Congress. A record number of local men vied for the position--obviously not subscribing to the basic tenet that everything federal is bad. We're getting economic stimulus money from the US. We've been getting good press for our federally-declared national marine monument. We're heading into federal immigration and the US is respecting our wishes to have better dialogue and clear planning. We're seeing more US military in our neighboring island of Guam with spill-over tourism here.

Kudos to Eric O'Malley, who worked really hard and obviously came to court with his hammer and nails to close the lid on this mess.

(And if the reports of guilty on all charges are wrong or inflated, I still say kudos to Eric, and shake my head in disbelief and disapproval at the closing argument tactics of the defense counsel.)

Now we'll await sentencing. It's pretty clear that federal law will provide some real sanction for the wrongdoing, unlike CNMI law.


Marianas Pride said...

I was also turned off by the closing arguments of the defense team, and so were a number of people I spoke to.

Aside from the things you mentioned in closing arguments, I found it extremely arrogant for the defense to claim that "making a lot of money is not a crime." Correction. Making a lot of money illegally through a scam like the ones they concocted is a crime.

There are several questions that remain unanswered Jane, and I hope you can shed some light since this deals with CNMI law:

1. Is Tim fired from his job as Lt. Governor? If not, will he continue to collect a paycheck if he decides to appeal?

2. Will he still continue to enjoy the perks of being the CNMI's Lt. Governor, such as free electricity, courtesy of us CNMI taxpayers?

Great post Jane!

Saipan Writer said...

Thanks for the comment, Ed.

I don't know the answers with legal citations to your questions off the top of my head. But as I understand it, there is no automatic "firing" from the elected job. The Legislature, I think, has to impeach and vote for conviction for him to be ousted.

So until that happens, he would enjoy all the benefits of the position, as well as remain responsible for the duties.

Anonymous said...

Constitutionally he no longer meets the basic requirements to to be LT. He has been convicted of a crime.

Joy's Brother said...

You are correct, Jane. The disqualification is not self-executing. It requires resignation or impeachment.

The OPA, OAG, IRS, FBI, USAO, and jurors have all done their jobs. Now it is time for the House to step up to the plate.

lil bit said...

i too thought the closing arguments were racist and just irritatingly assinine. the analogies they chose to highlight their arguments were so lame.

cactus said...

Writer, your attempt to turn the verdict into a validation, even a celebration, of all things federal rings hollow.

Not "everything federal is bad," and, so far as I know, no one has ever claimed that it is. Many things are (probably most), but the jury trial system is not one of them. Why not? Because it is a system that trusts and empowers the local people.

Remember: The federal government did not convict Tim. He was convicted by a local jury of his peers. If the jury had decided to let him walk, there was nothing the feds could have done about it. Indeed, he would not have been tried in the first place had he not been indicted by a local grand jury.

All the feds did was present their case, and leave it to the locals to make the decisions, which are then binding on the feds. It is a case of total federal trust in, and deference to, local judgment.

As such, it is the direct opposite of the federal approach to such things as the immigration issue, which is characterized by total distrust of local judgment, and no deference to it whatsoever.

Saipan Writer said...


I don't think the outcome is a validation of all things federal and that was not my intent in the paragraph where I criticized the closing arguments attacking the federal government.

I agree with you that not everything about the federal government is wonderful and, as with any government, we must be vigilant to keep checks on the power it wields.

So, I do agree with your assessment of the jury system that lauds it as power in the hands of the people. The jury system is a check on the power of the government, whether local or federal, and democratizes justice.

I disagree with your assumption, though, that the federal government is not "us" and is somehow a foreign power at odds with our local people. The federal government is as much our government as the local government is; when it acts, it is our action.

We need greater participation in it--the vote for President, for example. But we need to own it as ours.

In this case, "we" did things right. "We" prosecuted government officials and others for crimes. "We" presented the evidence. "We" determined the outcome.

We, as both federal and local, citizens, are managing our justice.

And in this case, I feel happy about the outcome.

cactus said...

Writer, I agree with your turns of phrase, but I do not see how they line up with the facts.

I believe, as you apparently do, that any government should be an extension of the people -- i.e., that it should be "us". But how exactly is the federal government "us"? I could see it if you called it "good" or "benevolent" or "stable," but that is not the same thing as being "us." How can its actions be "our" actions if we do not elect it?

And I agree completely that "we must be vigilant to keep checks on the power it wields." But, in your view, what checks do we here in the CNMI have on the power it wields?

Anonymous said...


You are really reaching with your continual attempts to cram every issue into your Federal/Local conflict obsession. Surely you can embrace some other, more nuanced world view?

You set up a rather feeble "straw man," claiming that Writer saw the verdict as a "celebration of all things federal," and then knocked it down. I did not interpret her comments the way you did.

Your argument--that a federal prosecution is really local, since it depends on a jury of local peers, and that therefore, the feds didn't really do anything but trust the local mango--is really not apt, imho. If the FBI and the US Attorney were not willing to bring charges, neither the grand jury nor the petit jury would have had the opportunity to consider them.

It also appears that you want to have it both ways: when the feds do something you don't like, they are despots and oppressors, but when they do something good, they are really just local guys and the feds had nothing to do with it.

But the larger issue is that "us" and "them" labels aren't really helpful in discussing the complex issues we face as citizens. We are all Americans AND we are CNMI residents. E pluribus unum, remember? We all pay the same power bills, and suffer through the same blackouts. We all owe a debt to the courageous CUC employees who did the right thing by blowing the whistle on the Rydlyme scheme, to the jurors (both grand and petit), and to Eric O'Malley for a job well done.

We are all in this together, cactus. The local government has had had problems enforcing many of our laws. I, for one, am happy the federal prosecutor's office is there as one of the "checks and balances" giving locals a helping hand in investigating and prosecuting high-ranking officials.

cactus said...

You are right that the feds CAN play a useful, helpful role in the CNMI. Federal independence from local political/personal issues can truly come in handy at times, and can help set the stage for getting things accomplished that otherwise might not be. I think that is what happened in this case.

It is precisely BECAUSE it is POSSIBLE to do these kinds of things RIGHT -- possible to have a local-federal relationship that is healthy, fair and beneficial, possible to create a new and true kind of "us" -- that it is so frustrating to see the feds constantly eschewing any such creative and salutary solutions in favor of an approach that is reactionary, visionless, top-down, and "us-vs-them" in the bluntest and crudest way possible -- i.e.: "we command, they obey."