restricted access Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
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Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands

The year under review was packed with many significant issues and events. The drama involving Senators José Dela Cruz and Ricardo Atalig played out until the last possible moment (McPhetres 2004, 132-133). Dela Cruz pled guilty and showed ample remorse for his role in the fraudulent hiring of his daughter by colleague Ricardo Atalig; he received a fairly light sentence. But Atalig continued to provide cover for the Rota/Tinian coalition by not resigning until he was finally taken into custody and sent to federal prison for a little over five years. Atalig demonstrated how he felt about the decision with an infamous hand gesture, a dramatic moment captured on video by the cable news reporter standing outside the courthouse. During the sentence hearing, Judge Munson severely chastised Mr Atalig for his failure to take responsibility for his actions. Meanwhile, Atalig filed a new letter of resignation in the Senate, making the election of his successor in November 2003 the new effective date.

The Senate quorum remained at five regardless of the fact that Senator Atalig had been convicted and sentenced for a felony, but technically remained in office, and Senator Dela Cruz had officially resigned his position. At that time, the Senate had no provisions to automatically dismiss a convicted felon. The Senate was effectively neutralized for the rest of the calendar year, with eight official members, only seven of whom could be physically present. Following incarceration of Mr Atalig the majority changed from five to four for the purposes of passing legislation. During the November election, Rota had to elect two senators instead of one: one to replace Atalig and take office immediately, and one to take office in January when the regular term expired for the other senator from Rota. This left the Rota delegation one member short between November and January. With eight senators, a quorum to hold meetings was five, and the Rota/Tinian coalition dominated. This group, led by Senate [End Page 167] President Paul Mangloña, then proceeded to hold sessions on Rota without informing the Saipan delegation.

When the new majority recessed during a session on Saipan, the old majority, consisting of the Saipan delegation led by Senator Ramon Guerrero as well as one Tinian senator, staged a coup. They elected a new set of officers and took over the Senate. With Senator Ramon (Kumoi) Guerrero as new Senate president, the group then proceeded to pass a large number of pending bills and sent them on to the House. Because he was not sure who was legally in charge of the Senate, the governor refused to act on any of the legislation originating from the "new majority," including the rejection of the nomination of Pam Brown as attorney general. The situation was completely stalemated until the swearing-in of the new Rota senator, which created a new majority. Senate President Mangloña then gave up his seat to Senator Adriano of Tinian, who proceeded to suspend the Saipan senators for various terms, for violating certain obscure Senate rules. Both sides then went to court, where Judge Govendo roundly chastised them for not resolving the issues in-house. He refused to rule on which side was correct. Eventually logic prevailed, and by February the new majority confirmed Pam Brown, the governor was happy, and the legislature resumed business as usual. The now "old majority" was reluctantly reintegrated into the membership.

Following the confirmation of Attorney General Pam Brown and a new majority in the legislature, Representative Stanley Torres, a perennial critic of the governor, was indicted in Superior Court under a warrant issued by the attorney general, accusing him of the same violations of law that Atalig and Dela Cruz had been charged with in federal court. Along with most of the other House members, Torres lost reelection; he considered his arrest to be simple payback for his criticisms of the governor and of Pam Brown when she was nominee for attorney general.

The Bank of Saipan saga also continued, with the conviction of four of the principals involved in an attempted takeover and the subsequent bank failure. Dusean Berkich, age sixty...