Marianas Variety

Last updateWed, 16 Oct 2019 12am







    Monday, October 14, 2019-8:43:16A.M.






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Landowner’s lawsuit against CUC, government put on hold, again

THE bench trial in the lawsuit filed by a landowner against the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. and the CNMI government was put on hold once again, this time after CUC moved to disqualify Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho from presiding over the trial.

Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja granted the motion and assigned the case to Judge Wesley Bogdan.

But citing a conflict of interest, Judge Bogdan recused himself from hearing the case which is now pending re-assignment to a new judge.

The plaintiff is Conrad M. Sablan who has accused CUC and the CNMI government of taking his property without just compensation.

The Office of the Attorney General, which represents the defendants, asked the court to disqualify Judge Camacho from presiding over the bench trial.

The chief of the Office of the AG’s Civil Division, Christopher Timmons, said Judge Camacho’s impartiality might be questioned because attorney Brien Sers Nicholas, who represents Sablan, also represents Judge Camacho’s brother and grandmother in a similar lawsuit against the CNMI government.

Timmons said the other lawsuit involving Judge Camacho’s brother and grandmother presents legal issues that the judge will be required to decide in Sablan’s case.

Judge Camacho’s decision in the Sablan case will affect the outcome of a case in which his brother and grandmother are parties seeking damages against the same defendant, the CNMI, Timmons added.

“These circumstances also demonstrate a personal bias against the CNMI,” Timmons said, adding that Judge Camacho should recuse himself from the Sablan case or, in the alternative, be disqualified from presiding over Sablan’s case.

According to Timmons, “The fact that [Judge] Camacho insists on presiding over a matter in which Ser Nicholas, who is counsel for plaintiff Sablan, also represents Judge’s Camacho’s family in a dispute involving the same defendant, reasonably calls his impartiality into question.”

Judge Camacho stayed the trial on Sept. 10, 2019 after receiving the Office of the AG’s motion to disqualify him. He then requested Judge Naraja to reassign the case.

Judge Kenneth L. Govendo was initially trying the case but CUC and CNMI moved to disqualify him as his wife had filed a complaint against CUC regarding a water bill issue.

Judge Naraja then reassigned the case to Judge Camacho.

Conrad Sablan sued CUC and the CNMI government for trespassing and for taking of property without just compensation. He accused them of building a tank and fences around his property.

Sablan alleges that CUC’s construction of the Maui IV water tank and wire fences on his property was done without consent or authority from him and thus constitutes trespass.

The CNMI government and CUC deny that they owe Sablan compensation or that they took his property.

The CNMI government also denies that Sablan is entitled to recovery or relief whatsoever from either the CNMI or CUC.

On April 30, 2018, Judge Govendo denied the CNMI government and CUC’s motion for summary judgment.

In his order, the judge stated that the CNMI had made a habit of taking land from people and attempting to refuse to pay for just compensation.

“CUC’s careless disregard for landowners’ rights is shocking and offends the rights of Northern Marianas people,” Judge Govendo added.