Court jurisdiction debated
TWO police officers implicated in the Blue House Lounge prostitution and kidnapping case yesterday pled not guilty to a set of new charges contained in a third superseding indictment in Superior Court.
Guam Police Department Officers David Manila and Anthony Quenga appeared for an arraignment before Magistrate Judge Alberto Tolentino and waived a reading of the indictment, pleading not guilty to the charges and requesting a jury of 12, discovery, and for grand jury proceedings to be provided.
Their co-defendant Blue House owner Song Ja Cha, however, declined to enter a plea due to a pending appeal in the Supreme Court of Guam.
Because of issues raised between Cha’s defense counsel Jeffrey Moots and lead prosecutor Assistant Attorney General Nelson Werner, the judge scheduled a continued arraignment hearing for Cha on March 27 at 1 p.m.
“What will happen is the court – as to Miss Cha – will delay the arraignment for one week. This will allow the court to do a little more research on the issue,” Tolentino said.
“As to the two gentlemen – Mr. Quenga and Mr. Manila – the court will proceed with the arraignment on the third superseding indictment. The court believes that the appeal as to Miss Cha does not affect the government’s ability to go forward with the superseding incitement against you,” Tolentino told the two officers.
According to Moots, because Cha has a pending appeal in the Supreme Court, the lower court has no jurisdiction to take a plea from the defendant.
The interlocutory appeal, filed by Cha’s attorney F. Randall Cunliffe, challenged Judge Anita Sukola’s denial of a motion for dismissal on grounds of double jeopardy.
Sukola, who is hearing the case, recently denied several motions to dismiss filed by the defendants. The interlocutory appeal is an appeal to the high court of a ruling by the lower court that was made before the conclusion of a trial.
Moots argued that the appeal in Supreme Court takes the case from Superior Court’s custody.
Werner disagreed, stating that while the prosecution was aware of the interlocutory appeal, a motion to stay in the lower court was required.
“No motion to stay was filed,” he told the court. “And therefore it’s our position that we have jurisdiction to proceed with the superseding indictment.”
Apart from the continued arraignment for Cha, all defendants are scheduled to return to court on April 1 for a status hearing before Sukola. All remain behind bars.
Cha and Officers Quenga and Manila now face a total of 17 charges in the third superseding indictment which include kidnapping, felonious restraint, compelling and promoting prostitution, criminal sexual conduct, criminal intimidation, and official misconduct, among others.
The alleged crimes committed by the defendants in the case occurred in a period between April 2006 and January 2008 and lists up to 10 female victims who were subjected to prostitution at the Blue House Lounge.
A third police officer previously named in the case, Mario Laxamana, pleaded guilty last week and agreed to fully cooperate with prosecutors as well as testify when his co-defendants go to trial. Laxamana pleaded guilty to felonious restraint as a third-degree felony and official misconduct as a misdemeanor while prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining charges.
Court jurisdiction debated