The judge hearing the Blue House case plans to start a jury trial next week, but two defense attorneys in the case said it’s too late and their clients should be set free because they haven’t received a speedy trial.
Superior Court of Guam Judge Anita Sukola yesterday denied a motion to dismiss the case made by attorney Terry Timblin, who represents Guam Police Department Officer David Manila, and by attorney John Terlaje, who represents Officer Anthony Quenga.
Timblin said he will appeal Sukola’s decision, which, based on past appeals, could delay the case until the Supreme Court of Guam issues a ruling.
Sukola yesterday also decided to try the two police officers separately from the brothel owner, saying it’s in the interest of justice.
Blue House owner Song Ja Cha is accused of running the lounge as an illegal brothel between 2004 and 2008, luring immigrant women to Guam and using the women as prostitutes. She was convicted of sex trafficking during a separate trial in federal court and sentenced to life in prison.
Her co-defendants are police officers Manila and Quenga, who are accused of several crimes related to the brothel, including rape.
A third police officer, Mario Laxamana, pleaded guilty to official misconduct and felonious restraint and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Timblin yesterday argued that because Manila had asserted his speedy trial rights, prosecutors had to try him by May 20.
Under Guam law, defendants who assert their right to a speedy trial must be tried within 45 days of their arraignment.
However, Sukola denied the motion, saying prosecutors still have six days.
The judge and defense attorneys disagree about how much time remains to try the Blue House case because they also disagree on whether past appeals to the Supreme Court temporarily stopped the time clock for a speedy trial.
Sukola has said those appeals, by Cha and Manila, temporarily stopped the clock, pending the high court’s decision on those matters.
Timblin yesterday argued that Cha’s appeal was unrelated to the case against Manila, and shouldn’t have stopped the clock for Manila’s speedy trial.
And Manila’s appeal to the high court, which was related to his ability to be released before trial, also shouldn’t have stopped the clock, Timblin argued.
“It doesn’t affect the rights of the court to move forward,” he said.
Also during yesterday’s hearing, more defense attorneys withdrew from the case, citing conflicts of interest.
Leslie Travis, who was appointed recently to represent Cha, withdrew after telling the court that her office, Civille & Tang PLLC, had previously represented Cha’s husband.
Although Cha’s husband has since died, Travis said her firm still believed it would be improper to represent his widow in a related case.
Terlaje also withdrew from representing Quenga in the case.
He said that there was a conflict of interest that could come up because of the witness list, though he didn’t disclose which witness or witnesses presented a conflict.
Travis and Terlaje are the second and third defense attorneys to bow out of the case.
On May 22, attorney F. Randall Cunliffe withdrew from representing Cha on the grounds that he had previously represented some of the witnesses in the case.
After Travis’ withdrawal yesterday, Sukola announced that the list of court-appointed attorneys had been exhausted, which means the court needs to look elsewhere for someone to represent her.
In order to avoid delaying the case any further, Sukola decided that Manila and Quenga should be tried separately from Cha.
Prosecutors earlier in the case had asked the judge to separate the cases, but Sukola at the time denied the request, citing concerns for “judicial economy.”
She separated the cases yesterday without being asked by prosecutors or defense attorneys.
“Severance is a relief justice requires,” she said.
The defendants are expected to appear again in court on Monday.