Today is a great day for judgment debtors in the CNMI.
The CNMI Supreme Court issued a decision in the case of PFC vs. Muna, 2008 MP 21, holding that the Superior Court must honor due process rights in civil contempt proceedings.
Specifically, the Superior Court must do the following in all future civil contempt hearings:
1. Advise the alleged contemnor that he has a right to be represented by counsel.
2. Advise the alleged contemnor that the Court will appoint counsel for him if he is too poor to afford counsel on his own.
3. Continue the matter to allow the non-indigent contemnor the opportunity to get counsel.
4. If a person brought into court on alleged contempt says s/he is too poor to afford counsel and s/he wants court-appointed counsel, the Superior Court is to undertake a quick examination of the contemnor's situation to determine if s/he is presumptively eligible for court-appointed counsel. If s/he is, then the Court appoints counsel before proceeding to the contempt matter.
5. Alternatively, the Superior Court can say before the contempt proceeding begins that it will NOT consider loss of liberty as a possible sanction in the matter. Then there is no court-appointed counsel, but there is also no jail sentence that can be imposed and then left hanging over the head of the judgment debtor as a means to compel payments.
Stay tuned for more information on this matter.
Decision is now available on-line at the Law Revision website: PFC vs. Muna