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Ataligs’ jury trial delayed, again

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THE jury trial of Rota Mayor Efraim Atalig and his co-defendant Evelyn Atalig, which has been postponed several times already. will be delayed for two more weeks.

Their jury trial will now start on Aug. 4, 2020 at 10 a.m., District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona said at a hearing on Tuesday.

She denied the motion of the U.S. government to compel “the production of material and information regarding the testimony of the expert witness,” and for the court to determine “whether defendants’ expert witness testimony is admissible under the rules of evidence.”

Judge Manglona granted the joint request of the Ataligs to amend their witness list and to add Gregory Vecchi, Ph.D., a Federal Bureau of Investigation interviewing expert, as an expert witness.

The Ataligs said Vecchi will testify “on matters relating to (among other subjects) coercive and misleading effect of the way the government’s investigative agents used in this matter when interviewing witnesses and the significance of certain ‘Henthorn’ materials of an agent involved in this case.”

For his part, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric O’Malley has expressed his opposition to the defense motion, and has requested for a Daubert hearing.

According to an online legal dictionary, a Daubert hearing is a trial judge's evaluation of whether or not an expert's testimony and evidence are admissible.

Attorney David Banes, who represents Mayor Atalig, informed the court that he might file a short continuance due to Vecchi’s unavailability for a Daubert hearing.

The court then instructed Banes to coordinate with the prosecutor as to an available date for a Daubert hearing.

The Ataligs are accused of arranging CNMI government funded trips to California, Palau, Guam, and Saipan from Feb. 2018 to Aug. 2018.

A superseding indictment charged the Ataligs with conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from program receiving federal funds, and two counts of false statements.

In the CNMI Superior Court, Mayor Atalig and seven of his former and current resident directors were charged with misconduct in public office.

Vanessa Charfauros, Magdalena Mesngon, Dexter Apatang and Josepha Manglona have already disposed the cases against them through a plea agreement with the Office of the Attorney General.

Recently, the AG’s office filed a motion to dismiss the case against Dennis Mendiola.

Besides the Rota mayor, the remaining defendants in the local case are Dean Manglona and Eusebio Manglona.

Their bench trial was set for March 30, 2020, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the local court schedules have been  suspended.

The CNMI government is accusing the Rota officials of taking government-funded per diem and salary compensation to attend a Republican campaign rally on Guam on June 23, 2018.

Misconduct in public office is punishable for a period of not more than one year, or a fine of not more than $1,000.

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