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Judge denies Rota officials’ demand for jury trial

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SUPERIOR Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja has denied the demand for jury trial of Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig, Dennis Mendiola and Josepha Mendiola. Dennis Mendiola is Rota’s former Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services resident director while Josepha Mendiola is the island’s Department of Finance resident director.

Citing a previous ruling of the CNMI Supreme Court, Judge Naraja said the right to a jury trial does not apply to the case because the defendants are facing less than five years imprisonment and a fine less than $2,000.

Mayor Atalig and seven of his former or current resident directors have been charged with misconduct in public office which is punishable by a term of imprisonment of not more than one year or a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

Judge Naraja also considered Josepha Manglona’s request as moot after she signed a plea agreement with the CNMI government on March 12, 2020.

Dennis Mendiola, represented by attorney Bruce Berline, joined the demand for trial by jury on March 6 while Mayor Atalig, through attorney Cong Nie, did the same on March 9.

Since the parties have stipulated to have the demand submitted on briefs without oral argument, no hearing was scheduled, Judge Naraja said.

Besides Josepha Manglona, three other co-defendants — Vanessa Charfauros, Magdalena Mesngon and Dexter Apatang — have already disposed the cases against them through plea agreements with the Attorney General’s Office.

The remaining defendants are the Rota mayor, Eusebio Manglona, Dennis Mendiola and Dean Manglona who did not sign a plea agreement contrary to what Variety erroneously reported last month.

According to the third amended information filed in Superior Court, Mayor Atalig, Dexter Apatang, Vanessa Charfauros, Eusebio Manglona, Dennis Mendiola, and Magdalena Mesngon committed misconduct in public office on or about June 1, 2018 to Aug. 30, 2018 when they used CNMI public funds and time for a political or campaign activity on Guam.

As for Dean Manglona and Josepha Manglona, the two were accused of accepting per diem and rental car payments improperly and using administrative leave for days when they were not traveling on government business.

Initially a theft charge was filed against the Rota officials, but this was omitted by the CNMI government in its second amended information. Judge Naraja then scheduled a bench trial for March 30, 2020, but because of the Covid-19 pandemic, local trials have been suspended.

In federal court, Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona vacated the jury trial for Mayor Atalig and co-defendant Evelyn Atalig scheduled for March 18 and set a status conference for April 29, 2020 at 1:30 p.m.

The U.S. government has accused the Ataligs of arranging CNMI-government-funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from Feb. 2018 to Aug. 2018. In a superseding indictment, the Ataligs were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

November 2020 pssnewsletter

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