NMI high court overturns sanction on former assistant AG

THE trial court has abused its discretion when it imposed a monetary sanction on former Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth “Betsy” Weintraub, the CNMI Supreme Court said in a ruling that reversed a trial court’s decision against the former prosecutor.

Chief Justice Alexandro Castro, Justice John A. Manglona and Justice Perry B. Inos vacated Superior Court Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio’s order against  Weintraub, who was sanctioned for the way she handled a sex abuse case involving a minor.

Betsy Weintraub

In Sept. 2017, Kim-Tenorio found that Weintraub violated the rules of professional conduct by showing “lack of diligence” and for resorting to “dilatory tactics.”

The judge ordered Weintraub to  donate $500 to a non-profit group of her choice that helps victims of child abuse.

Weintraub appealed the decision, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a sanction without making a determination of bad faith.

She also argued that the court failed to consider her ability to pay a monetary fine or to support its findings of Model Rules of Professional Conduct violations with clear and convincing evidence.

She said the sanction violated her right to due process, adding that she was not afforded heightened due process, sufficient notice of the charges against her, or a right to counsel.

In their ruling, the justices noted the trial court’s issue with Weintraub’s “inefficient case management, lack of preparation, and waste of resources,” but added that the former prosecutor’s “lack of preparation and request for numerous continuances were done in the normal course of litigation.”

Moreover, the justices said Weintraub neither lied nor attempted to deceive the trial court. “While the court may disagree with Weintraub’s conduct, her actions were nonetheless done on behalf of the Commonwealth.”

The trial court claimed Weintraub’s motives were “irrelevant as she had a duty to advocate within the confines of professional ethics.”

The justices disagreed. “The [trial] court’s view of the law was clearly erroneous as it imposed the sanction although it could not, and did not find, that Weintraub acted with bad faith. Therefore, we find that the [trial] court abused its discretion….”

In an email to Variety, Weintraub said: “I am so grateful to the CNMI Supreme Court for carefully reviewing this matter and reaching a decision fully supported by the law.”

While saying she is “not the victim in this case,” Weintraub said, “the victim still deserves justice.”

Now that the Supreme Court has corrected the sanction issue, Weintraub said she hopes that “the attorney general will correct the greater injustice to the victim by refiling the charges against the defendant.”

The defendant is Michael Barry Murphy who was charged with sexual abuse of a minor in the first degree, and sexual abuse of a minor in the second degree.

On Aug. 15 2017, the Superior Court dismissed the case without prejudice against Murphy, and expressed discontent with the manner in which the former assistant attorney general handled the case.

On Dec. 5, 2017, the Office of the Attorney General refiled the case against Murphy, a former Army Reservist.

Murphy was arrested in Aug. 2016 on the charge of abusing a four-year-old girl and two other women when they were still minors.

Murphy is represented by attorney Janet King.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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