Letter to the Editor: Pohnpei AG v. Pohnpei CJ

05 JUNE 2017 - There seem(s) to be little doubt (that) the Pohnpei State Attorney General’s office is on an official rampage to derail the Pohnpei Chief Justice from office. First, it flooded the State Legislature with more than a dozen assertions of acts (that) the AG(’s) office deemed (to be) illegal...(that the office considered to be)...misconduct in office.
While the state legislature set about its task to determine (whether) the evidence (was) credible to support (the AG’s) claim of misconduct, the AG upgrade(d) the ante by filing civil action PCA No. 154-17 against the Chief Justice. The grounds alleged in the civil action (were) basically the same as those provided to the State Legislature to consider as bas(e) s for removal of the CJ from office by impeachment.
For its final assault, the Pohnpei AG’s office filed criminal case PKD No. 54-17 charging the Pohnpei CJ with more than 20 counts of violations of laws based on the exact grounds that support(ed) its call for impeachment, and its lawsuit PCA. No. 54-2017.
These three legal weapons, of choice, namely: (1) call for impeachment, (2) lawsuit, and (3) criminal charges, all point to a common goal, the removal of the Pohnpei Chief Justice from office.
It seems, though, that this is not going to be an easy goal on a silver platter in view of the AG’s course of action.
First, it raises a political question. Which branch of the government should remove the CJ(?) Can the Legislature proceed to impeach the CJ when the AG has pre-empted the legislature and filed criminal charges against the CJ? If convicted by the court, that would end the CJ tenure.
Common law dictates that an impeached official is not immune from criminal prosecution, but not the other way around; first prosecute and when (if) convicted, proceed with the impeachment.
For officials that can be removed from office by impeachment, a criminal charge is like a double-edge sword. This is so because conviction of (a) crime has two results: (1) removal from office(,) and (2) penalty for the crime is imposed, while an impeachment effectuate(s) removal from office.
The crux of the problem lies in the identical or same grounds that support both the proposed impeachment and the criminal charges. The Legislature could easily adopt an impeachment and the CJ will then be removed and await trial befor(e) a panel of three state court judges.
The standard of proof in the trial of the articles of impeachment is by preponderance of the evidence, while the standard of proof in the criminal charges is higher, which is proof beyond reasonable doubt...so that the criminal charges may create an impasse to the passage of the impeachment resolution, because adoption of an impeachment resolution means (that) two trials will be held on (the) same set of facts with two different standard(s) of proof.
The impeachment trial require(s) the lesser standard of proof and the criminal trial the higher standard of proof.
But surely, it does seem ludicrous to face two trials for the same set of facts that are (to) be tried under two different standard(s) of proof. It is anybody’s guess on the outcome of such trial, which can occurred only if the legislature opted to impeach the CJ.
These three events (were) fueled originally by the state public auditor report, that resulted in charges against the court’s Administrative officer, and a(n) assistant (C)lerk of court. The court’s AO was arrested under AG instruction, while he was about to board a plane with his wife and children to visit his grandparents in the Republic of Palau.
The court’s AO became distraught and traumatized by the arrest and separation from his family, according to family members, that he died (several months) later. The charges against him (the court’s AO) and the assistant clerk of court were recently dismissed by the court (without prejudice).
It is disconcerting that the criminal charges were filed without a thorough consideration of procedural ramifications of such course of action.
(I) am dismayed at the fact the CJ was not investigated or questioned about his travel advances before the filing of the charges. My cursory review of the CJ travel advances indicated (that) the Dept. of Treasury & Administration had approved all the travel advances.
Joseph (Joe) Phillip

[Editor’s note: As often as possible, I attempt to publish letters to the editor in unedited form even if I personally disagree with the opinions expressed. However, in the case of the above letter I was forced to make some edits while leaving intact, the opinion that was expressed.
I had initially intended to run the item exactly as it was submitted until I was reminded that if a newspaper publishes something when we know that parts of the information are false the newspaper loses it constitutional protections against defamation. In New York Times v. Sullivan, Time v. Hill, and Gertz v. Robert Welsh (1974) the Court, relying on a long line of previous cases further defined publication with malice as “reckless disregard” for the truth to include “subjective awareness of probably falsity.”
The good Mr. Phillip, esquire wrote his letter under the aegis of a group whose articles of incorporation were not accepted by the State government because the name the group chose would be misleading. As submitted, Mr. Phillip’s letter gave the impression that some entity governing all of the attorneys who practice law in Pohnpei agree with his opinion on the subject.
I corrected a statement regarding the amount of time that passed between the AG directed arrest of a court officer and the officer’s unfortunate and untimely death.
The Court did dismiss the case of Ms. Ruthie Hadley but did so at the prosecutor’s request and the dismissal was without prejudice, meaning that the charges can be revisited at a later date.
Most of the other edits I made were for correction of typographical errors, missing words or substantive grammatical errors.
Letters to the Editor are certainly welcome and we will do our best to publish them. Just be aware that we cannot allow defamation or falsehoods to be published under the guise of opinion. It is possible that the person who submitted the above letter believed that all of the information submitted was accurate. Just the same, I still had responsibility to correct what I knew needed to be corrected.]