Pohnpei Legislature approves Nelson A. Joseph as Chief Justice of Supreme Court

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press
November 6, 2017
Pohnpei—After careful scrutiny, the Pohnpei State Legislature’s Standing Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations recommended confirmation of the Nelson A. Joseph as the new Chief Justice of the Pohnpei Supreme Court. The Legislature agreed and confirmed the nomination.
Governor Marcelo K. Peterson submitted his appointment of Joseph in an October 6 letter to Speaker Fernando Scaliem subject to Legislative consent by a majority. “His professional experiences and trainings can be put to good use at the service of the post of Chief Justice,” the Governor’s letter said.
“…considering the recent calamity within the Pohnpei Supreme Court, your Committee diligently analyzed this particular assignment with utmost scrutiny,” the committee report said.
As the most senior Associate Justice at the Pohnpei Supreme Court when former Chief Justice Benjamin Rodriguez submitted his resignation, Joseph became the Acting Chief Justice.


“This year marks the nominee’s 39th year of employment within the realm of the Court,” the report said.
In 1978 he began as an Assistant Chief Clerk at the Pohnpei State Supreme Court and was later promoted to Chief Clerk. He was later nominated and confirmed as the Chief Justice of Kolonia Town Municipal Court where he served for two years. In 1995 he was appointed by then Governor Johnny P. David and confirmed by the 3rd Legislature. At the time of his appointment in October, he was serving his second consecutive term as an Associate Justice of the Pohnpei Supreme Court.
Former Pohnpei Chief Justice, Judah Johnny was called before the committee. He told the committee that Joseph had good credentials and that he was a competent former colleague on the bench. “Although former Governor Mr. Johnny David was somewhat skeptical about nominating Mr. Joseph for a second term in his office because of his personal lifestyle,” the committee report said, “Mr. Johnny noted that the nominee has changed over the years. He is a constant church-going individual who never missed Holy Communion services.”
The next witnesses called were colleagues from the Pohnpei Supreme Court and the Court of Land Tenure. Witnesses from the Court of Land Tenure testified strong support for the nominee. Associate Justices of the Pohnpei Supreme Court tended to agree that Joseph is very capable and adept in his work. They were not able to comment on his ability in terms of administration work.
The testimony of Local Municipal Court Judges “weighed heavily in support of the nominee”, the J&GO committee report said.
“From the Court Community, your Committee learned that the one weakness that the nominee ha(s) is managing his time at work,” the report said. The committee suspected that the fact might have been contributing to the backlog of cases at the court but other witnesses testified that “all in all, every person involved in cases filed in Court contributes to the backlog of cases.”
In addition to the other witnesses the committee called before them, they also sought input from attorneys and trial counselors who had stood before Associate Justice Joseph. The committee said that 90 percent of the responding attorneys responded positively to their experiences with him as an Associate Justice. “However, the minor downside of the comments received, rests on the nominee’s time and attendance spent at work,” the report said. “Likewise, a portion of the comments question the nominee’s college question the nominee’s college background.” The committee concluded that the majority of the comments received from theat attorneys supported the nominee as the next Chief Justice of the Pohnpei Supreme Court.
The Committee also met with Joseph. “He commented that during this short period of time that he has been serving as the Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he has already devised a mechanism to forward and safeguard the administration of the Pohnpei Supreme Court. He testified that the monies collected by the Court are now deposited daily, with one receipt filed with the Chief Clerk and another receipt filed with his own assigned secretary” the report said. He testified that the “the added responsibilities are demanding more of his time and attendance at work. Thus, the management of his time at work has changed.”
He also told the committee that in order to assist with the backlog of cases at the Court he would be reducing the number of trainings each year that he and his staff would take part in if he received the confirmation of the Legislature.
“His vision for Pohnpei Supreme Court rests with the development of the Court,” the report said. “It will…take a while for Pohnpei Supreme Court to be restored completely.” Joseph told the committee that he would “try to the best of is ability to restore the broken pieces.”
“In light of the concern raised regarding the nominee’s time and attendance spent at work…your Committee members decided to accord the nominee the benefit of the doubt because of the nominee has dedicated his entire working career with the Court,” the report recommending the approval of his appointment said. “We are of the mind that his weaknesses mentioned herein will be inevitably be ironed out.”
Though no pages were omitted from the written committee report on the testimony of Feliciano Perman, Director of the Department of Treasury and Administration (DoTA), there is a gap between pages 6 and 7 of the report. The Director’s testimony seemed to center on a mandate of the law that requires that Justices of the Supreme Court submit a report to the Director of DoTA regarding the status of cases. He testified that the DoTA had never received such reports.
“…your Committee has decided to maintain its standpoint and recommend Mr. Nelson A. Joseph to the post of Chief Justice with the understanding that upon his confirmation, the new Chief Justice will take the points raised in this report under close consideration,” the report said.
The Legislature agreed and confirmed Nelson A. Joseph to be the new Chief Justice of the Pohnpei Supreme Court where he will serve for the next 12 years unless removed from office.