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BREAKING NEWS: Federal Grand Jury in Guam & NMI suspended, but Justice continues

By Jacob Nakamura

(Tumon, Guam) Despite an effort by the Governor's Office on Guam to derail the administration of federal justice in both Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the United States Attorney for both jurisdictions says the work of his office will continue.

And so have Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood and NMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona. In nearly identical orders handed down today, the Courts have closed their facilities to public access, postponed certain proceedings, but otherwise "initial appearances, arraignments and detention hearings will be conducted by video/telephone conference, with the Defendant's permission, unless otherwise directed by the Court," according to Ms. Tydingco-Gatewood. Ms. Manglona issued a nearly-identical order.

"Issuance of search warrants will continue to take place in the ordinary course of business. Individual judges may continue to hold hearings, conferences, bench trials, and trial-specific deadlines in the exercise of their discretion, consistent with this order. Judges are strongly encouraged to conduct court proceedings by telephone or video conferencing where practicable. Individual judges presiding over criminal proceedings may take such actions consistent with this order as may be lawful and appropriate to ensure the fairness of the proceedings and preserve the rights of the parties." - by the order of Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood

Grand Jury proceedings have been continued to April 26, 2020 in both Courts, "however, the U.S. Attorney may schedule grand jury proceedings for emergency or essential matters after consultation with the Chief Judge."

Criminal jury selection and trials in Guam that were scheduled to begin before April 26 have been continued pending further order of the Court. Sentencing and revocation hearings scheduled on or before April 3 are continued.

"All civil and criminal jury selections and jury trials scheduled before April 26, 2020 are continued pending further order of the Court," according to Ms. Manglona.

Both Court's orders also cover the disposition of civil and bankruptcy cases, citizenship naturalization, community outreach, filings, payments, and media access to proceedings via telephone.

As for Mr. Anderson, himself, who has recently traveled, he falls under a category of people who won't be allowed physically into the court building. According to the Court's order, anyone who has traveled the past 14 days, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or come into contact with anyone diagnosed, has been asked to self quarantine by any doctor, hospital or health agency, or who is displaying symptoms of the viral infection are not allowed entry.

Ms. Manglona's restrictions on access to her facility has an additional provision: anyone who's come into close contact with someone who has traveled over the past 14 days. What does this mean for anyone who has been in contact with Mr. Anderson since his arrival back in Guam? Apparently, nothing; because, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, he has not come into contact with anyone from his staff.

Federal Public Defender John Gorman called on Ms. Tydingco-Gatewood to suspend Mr. Anderson and the entire U.S. Attorney's Office from contact with the Court, alleging that Mr. Anderson visited a COVID-19 Level 3 country (Thailand), and that upon his return to Guam, Mr. Anderson came into contact with his staff.

"If you read what John Gorman said, he came from Thailand which is not a Level 3 country if you check the CDC," U.S. Attorney's Office's spokeswoman Carmela Rapadas said. "All I am aware of is that he arrived on a Narita flight to Guam.  Our USAO office has been on mandatory telework effective Friday (3/20) and Mr. Anderson returned Saturday so no contact with us."

Mr. Anderson himself weighed in: “I have not had personal contact with our staff.  I am also now set up to telework, which I will do for the next two weeks.  I will only go to the office if necessary.  Again, I did not travel to a CDC high risk country and do not have symptoms of COVID-19.”

Mr. Anderson's office, which is prosecuting major cases in Guam and in Saipan, including the largest political corruption case west of Washington, D.C. involving Gov. Ralph Torres, says the work will continue:

“There is no legal or medical basis to quarantine our entire staff.  No USAO employee has had personal contact with me since my return to Guam.  Again, I did not travel to a CDC high risk country nor do I have any symptoms of COVID-19.  In addition, our office has taken precautionary measures since the outbreak on Guam began.  We even extended these measures to our Saipan office out of an abundance of caution.  Our office, as well as the entire Department of Justice, takes the health of our employees seriously.

"Most of our employees are now teleworking at diverse locations on island.  However, they still need to travel to court and our offices when necessary to fulfill our mission.  While the resources of the federal government are currently strained, we will continue to assist law enforcement with investigations and pursue prosecutions in our federal courts.  As always, we will prioritize our cases based on our current resources, in addition to the needs of our citizens and any threats to national security.

"Our federal courts on Guam and the NMI have issued orders regulating entry to their facilities due to the current outbreak.  The orders are posted on their websites.  We will work within the terms of these orders and with our justice partners, including defense counsel, to ensure that the federal justice system continues to function for the safety and welfare of our communities.”

The District Courts of Guam and the NMI will be temporarily closed to the public until Friday, April 3. The U.S. Pretrial and Probation Offices all will be closed during this period.

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