Pohnpei files civil action against Chief Justice Rodriguez

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
March 7, 2017
Pohnpei—Today the Pohnpei Attorney General’s office (AG) filed a civil suit (PCA 154-17) in the Pohnpei Supreme Court against that court’s own Chief Justice seeking financial remuneration and declaratory judgments on a variety of claims.
The claims in the Civil Action correspond with the claims the AG made in its letter to the Pohnpei State Legislature (PSL) suggesting a possible impeachment action against the Chief Justice.
No members of the Legislature that we attempted to contact on the actions it has taken on the letter have returned our numerous requests for comment.
Four of the counts in the Civil Action against the Chief Justice are for “Breach of Fiduciary Trust”.
“Defendant Benjamin Rodriguez, because he is the Chief Justice of the Pohnpei Supreme Court, owes a fiduciary duty to Pohnpei State Government and the people of Pohnpei to act at all times with the utmost care, honesty, undivided loyalty, good faith and fidelity in his management of dealings with and use of public funds in the Pohnpei State Treasury,” the AG claims in the civil action.

The first count of “Breach of Fiduciary Duty” in CA 154- 17 claims that in April of 2011, the Chief Justice approved a travel authorization (TA) for his wife in the amount of $2,142 so that she could accompany him to Manila during a medical referral that was covered by MiCare. The suit claims that the trip was not for business but for personal convenience and personal benefit. It alleges that a total of $5,902.58 was expended from the public treasury for travel allowances received by the “defendant and his spouse”.
CA 154-17 claims that Pohnpei is entitled to “compensatory damages in the amount of $5,902.58, punitive damages, interest and such other damages as may be proved at trial.”
Count two alleges that a State government check was issued in 2011 in the amount of $322.20 to Genesis Pharmacy for the defendant’s personal medical bill.
Count Three says that during the period of 2009 through 2016, Chief Justice Rodriguez attended 12 Pacific Islands Education Programs with the US Government funding all or part of the travel expenses. It alleges that he also received travel benefits in the form of “stipends” or per diem paid by the State Government.
It also claims that during that period of time, the Chief Justice also attended approximately 13 conferences that were funded in whole or in part by the Pacific Judicial Council. It claims that the defendant also received travel benefits in the form of stipends or per diem from the Pohnpei State Government for those trips.
The Civil Action also says that it intends to prove that the defendant “attended other training programs, conferences, workshops and seminars and traveled for other purposes where travel benefits for his participation were funded in whole or in part by the sponsors of the events. It claims that he also received travel benefits in the form of “stipends” or per diem from Pohnpei State Government for those trips.
The AG is asking the court to require the Chief Justice to pay back all of the funds it alleges that he may have wrongfully received along with interest and attorney’s fees.
The biggest return of allegedly lost revenue that the AG is asking for in the civil action is the return of $123,857 along with 1400 missing cash receipts that according to a Pohnpei State Auditor’s report went missing in fiscal years 2010 to February 27, 2014.
Those missing funds are a matter of criminal proceedings against two former court employees. That case is still being prosecuted at the Pohnpei Supreme Court and defendants are presumed innocent unless otherwise proven.
The Civil Action also asks for Declaratory Judgment to close down an account that it alleges that the defendant illegally opened in 2009 and still maintains at the Bank of Guam. An audit conducted by Pohnpei State Auditors in 2014 said that the account violates Pohnpei State law. According to the Civil Action, the account was still open and active as of January 2017. It asks the court to issue a Declaratory Judgment directing defendant Benjamin Rodriguez to deposit all Supreme Court revenue into the Pohnpei State Treasury.
It’s not clear if any justices at the Supreme Court could hear the case since all of the justices work directly for the Chief Justice.

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