Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Illegal Fishing At The Grotto Continues

On our Saturday morning dive, we spent quite a bit of time untangling fishing line, hooks and homemade sinkers from the coral outside of the Grotto. Some of the pieces of fishing line were well over 100 feet long and went from one piece of coral to the next. The illegal fishermen were using pieces of cut up rebar, old spark plugs set into a mold with melted lead poured around them, and chunks of busted up concrete. A little over a month ago, Fish & Wildlife officers arrested 2 Chinese fisherman at the Grotto for fishing in a sanctuary. We were all glad that something was finally being done about it, some of us were getting tired of spending the majority of our dives unraveling fishing line and picking up homemade sinkers.

But then the 2 Chinese fishermen went to court and had to face Judge Mona Manglona. Instead of teaching them a lesson and showing them that this kind of behavior won't be tolerated in our sanctuaries, it seemed as if she was almost apologizing to them in the sentence she handed down. She gave them 6 months in jail, all suspended except for the first 9 days with credit for the 9 days already served. She then placed the defendant on 6 months of unsupervised probation and hit him with a staggering $25 fine. According to the story in the newspaper, in accepting the plea agreement, Judge Manglona said the accused had pleaded guilty to a "rarely committed offense". Absolutely unbelievable!!! Can she possibly be anymore out of touch with reality?

But now the question comes in, who is really at fault, was it Judge Manglona, or was it the prosecutor from the AG's office prosecuting the case? Was Judge Manglona given enough information from the AG's office to make an educated decision. And why did the AG's office choose to settle this through a plea bargain as opposed to actually prosecuting it? Is it because they don't have the time or money? Do they not feel the crime was important enough to merit a trial? If we're not serious about protecting our sanctuaries and enforcing the laws that pertain to them, then why have them in the first place? If we don't have the time or money to follow through on things like this, then let's stop playing games, just get rid of the laws, the sanctuaries and the rules, after all they really don't seem to mean much anyway.

This is the pile of garbage picked up on just one dive last Saturday morning. All the pieces of cut up rebar were used as sinkers for fishing line. There is easily over 300 feet of fishing line there. And I didn't even bother bringing up all the broken up chunks of concrete that were used for sinkers down there. A rarely committed offense? Hardly! Our system is not functioning properly, and our laws have become a sad joke. We just sent the message loud and clear that you might as well go ahead and fish in our sanctuaries because you'll easily catch enough fish to pay the $25 fine you'll get and you'll still make a good profit. And that's only if you manage to get caught. I'm guessing that the Fish & Wildlife officers aren't exactly thrilled about going out to try and catch more of the illegal fisherman at the Grotto now that they've learned they'll only get a $25 fine.

In the meantime, I'll continue collecting the fishing line and cut up chunks of rebar, concrete, nuts and bolts and just hope that a diving tourist doesn't get entangled in the fishing line before I get to it.


Mike Ernest said...

My defense of Judge Manglona, not to be argumentative, but in the interest of finding a solution:

First, on a personal note, I know her and have practiced before he and trust me, she is one of the most prepared judges. And she's thorough.

I do not dispute that the fine was low. Heck, it cost the CNMI more to prosecute the guy than we got in return. That isn't right.

BUT, is it necessarily the fault of the Judge? I don't think so.

It is up to the prosecution to convince the court, during trial or sentencing, of the severity of the crime. It is up to the prosecution to argue the relative danger(s) to the community posed by the defendant and his actions.

If the prosecution didn't do its job (and I wasn't there; I'm not saying they did or didn't do anything) then it's not the court's fault.

The way to get increased fines and jail time is to either keep prosecuting these, until the court gets sick of seeing illegal fishermen


increase the penalties statutorily.

I think the CNMI needs more public servants like Judge Manglona.

Jeff said...

Since when are you so soft on crime, Mike?

The career enhancing ass kissing is unbecoming, but distinctly Republican -- especially with all that Right Wing tough talk you espouse.

You don't have to be as incompetent as Scalia to know that a $25 fine for fishing in a marine sanctuary is a travesty.

Anonymous said...

I have an idea that might discourage illegal fishing OR promote diving. Install a webcam UNDERWATER for surveillance! I thought it would be cool, I mean why are there ZERO webcams on Saipan? CUC?

Mike Ernest said...

I wasn't ass kissing. It wouldn't do much good. If you knew her, you would know that.

I was trying to steer Harry to whom I thought was mostly responsible. The fact is, for some reason (and maybe there's a valid reason: I haven't spokent to them about this...) the prosecution agreed to the plea and presented it to the court.

Under our Rules (which are basically court-made laws) when presented with a plea agreement, Judge Manglona has two choices, accept it as is, or reject it and allow the defendant to withdraw the plea, (practically forcing a trial):

(3) Acceptance of a Plea Agreement. If the court accepts the plea agreement, the court shall inform the defendant that it will embody in the judgment and sentence the disposition provided for in the plea agreement.
(4) Rejection of a Plea Agreement. If the court rejects the plea agreement, the court shall, on the record, inform the parties of this fact, advise the defendant personally in open court, or on a showing of good cause, in camera, that the court is not bound by the plea agreement, afford the defendant the opportunity to then withdraw his
plea, and advise the defendant that if he/she persists in hisher guilty plea or plea of nolo
contendere the disposition of the case may be less favorable to the defendant than that contemplated by the plea agreement.

Here, two officers of the court presented Judge Manglona with a plea that each felt was either in the interests of justice (AAG) or his/her client (the defendant's attorney).

Maybe she should have been tougher, but for some reason (again, maybe a valid one) the prosecution felt 25 bucks would do. And it's somehow her fault?

Anyway, Full Disclosure: I clerked for her husband have have advised her brother-in-law for a few years now. But any other judge could have imposed that sentence, and my posts would have been the same.

Mike Ernest said...

And I did point out that the fine was low, and pointed out that it cost the CNMI more to deal with this guy than we got in return, and I believe I said something like "That's not right."

You Democrats. There you go again....