By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) Judge Elyze McDonald Iriarte was signing Mandana Drug Task Force warrants for nearly the entire time the task force was active and her father's brother was the island's chief prosecutor.
Former Gov. Eddie Calvo created and authorized the task force in February 2017 through Executive Order 2017-01. By July, Ms. Iriarte's uncle, Joe McDonald, was appointed chief prosecutor within the Attorney General's Office. He remained chief prosecutor through the remainder of 2017 and through 2018. Chief of Police Stephen Ignacio disbanded the task force earlier this year.
Ms. Iriarte and Mr. McDonald are related to the third degree of sanguinity, which created a conflict of interest regarding criminal cases, when he became the chief prosecutor, according to a ruling by the Supreme Court of Guam.
"[W]e find that absent the agreement of the parties, 7 GCA § 6105(b)(5)(B) requires a Superior Court judge, related in the third degree to the Chief Prosecutor, to disqualify herself in any criminal proceeding brought by the Office of the Attorney General of Guam because the Chief Prosecutor, who is not supervising or involved in the matter, is legally presumed to be 'acting as a lawyer in the proceeding' based on his supervisory role as Chief Prosecutor," according to the ruling penned by Justice Robert Torres and joined by Chief Justice Katherine Maraman and Justice F. Phillip Carbullido.
Ms. Iriarte was supposed to disqualify herself from any criminal and pre-litigation proceedings, according to this ruling. Despite the ruling, Kandit News has reviewed several Mandana search warrants during the period when Mr. McDonald was the chief prosecutor, and found that Ms. Iriarte signed more search warrants than any other judge.
Ms. Iriarte even continued authorizing "no-knock" warrants to Mandana task force officers who previously attested that probable cause existed to raid people's homes and returned the executed warrants having found no such evidence.
In other jurisdictions, judges refuse to sign warrants applied for by law enforcement officers who receive "no-knock" warrants that come back empty handed. The issue becomes the credibility of the officer's information presented to a court balanced against the judge's obligation to protect the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments's rights against unlawful search and seizure and privacy extended to citizens.
Mr. McDonald supervised the prosecutors under his division, who coordinated the issuance of search and arrest warrants. The task force officers and the prosecutors often held news conferences celebrating their so-called victories following raids.
In October of 2018 it was disclosed that Mr. McDonald even won a government claim for a bike injury he sustained due to a road pothole. His office determines whether government claims are paid out.
Mr. McDonald left the Attorney General's Office at the end of the Calvo administration, and was hired by the seaport to replace legal counsel Mike Phillips.
Ms. Iriarte remains a Superior Court judge.