A POWER Act Virtual Seminar


Justice and the Challenges of COVID-19
A POWER Act Virtual Seminar
Held September 23, 2020
10 am – 12 noon

Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona at the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands hosted the second annual POWER Act Event on September 23, 2020. Due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns, the event was conducted as a free live webinar presentation with 42 attorneys in attendance, including 17 from the Republic of Palau. The event provided two hours of continuing legal education (CLE) credit to participants. While last year’s inaugural event focused on the nuts and bolts about the CNMI’s violence prevention laws and the local professional services available, the 2020 event focused on the pandemic’s effect on victims of family violence and the agencies striving to provide services to them during this unique and challenging time.

The Pro bono Work to Empower and Represent Act (“POWER Act”) was signed into law on September 4, 2018. Congress enacted the POWER Act after it found that there existed extremely high rates of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking at the local, state, tribal and national levels. The law requires that federal courts lead a public event “in partnership with a State, local, tribal, or territorial domestic violence service provider or coalition and a State or local volunteer lawyer project, promoting pro bono legal services as a critical way in which to empower survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and engage citizens in assisting those survivors.” Congress determined that pro bono assistance can help fill the need for legal representation for those in need of assistance, not just by providing legal representation, but also access to emergency shelter, transportation, and childcare. The public event must be held annually until 2023.

Providing their information and insights while broadcasting via Cisco WebEx from the second-floor courtroom of the United States District Courthouse for the District of the Northern Mariana Islands, the presenters wore face masks, other than when speaking to the audience, and observed social distancing standards. Maisie B. Tenorio, the Executive Director for the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, spoke about the challenges that victims are facing and their access to resources during the pandemic. She highlighted the additional isolation and vulnerability that victims of family violence may encounter during shutdowns and quarantine measures. Joe Kevin Villagomez—the former Family Court Manager at the CNMI Superior Court, who is about to resume working for the Community Guidance Center as a counselor—provided statistical information about family court cases. Notably, divorce rates and paternity case rates were up in 2020 when compared with 2019. Mr. John Bradley, the Chief of the Criminal Division of the CNMI Office of Attorney General, shared information about his office’s role in the process and the challenges the pandemic has placed on the prosecution of cases. Julian Camacho from the CNMI Division of Youth Services shared data that the number of reported cases has decreased during the pandemic due to the closure of schools.

This Power Act seminar was particularly timely this year. With the annual awareness campaigns for “Domestic Violence Awareness Month” and “Celebrate Pro Bono Week” taking place in October, the Power Act Seminar combined the important messages of both awareness campaigns just a week before they begin.

In her remarks during the event, Chief Judge Manglona told the lawyers in attendance: “It is our hope that you will be reminded of the serious need for pro bono legal assistance, and that you will be inspired to accept at least one case in the coming year.”

Chief Judge Manglona thanks all the presenters for their time and thanks Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio from the CNMI Superior Court, Executive Director Maisie B. Tenorio from the Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Clerk/Magistrate Judge Heather L. Kennedy, and Chambers Administrator Amanda Hayes from the District Court for planning the event this year.

LR: John Bradley, Criminal Chief, CNMI Office of the Attorney General; Matthew Uhalde, Law Clerk; Jenny Chhea, Law Clerk; Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio, CNMI Superior Court; Clerk/Magistrate Judge Heather L. Kennedy, District Court for the NMI; Maisie B. Tenorio, Executive Director, Northern Marianas Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, District Court for the NMI; Joseph Kevin Villagomez, Former Family Court Manager, CNMI Superior Court; and Julian Camacho, CNMI Division of Youth Services.

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