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By Kassi Berg
On May 30, help 2013, and three prominent women in Palau’s justice system, the Hon. Judge Kate Salii, Attorney General, Victoria Roe, and Public Defender, Lalii Sakuma, were all at work on the arraignment of defendants in the biggest prostitution and human trafficking case in Palau’s history.  The case stems from allegations that Filipina women were trafficked to Palau and then threatened and coerced into prostitution.
The prostitution ring was allegedly run by Palauan businessman Lucius Malsol and his employee Richard Huang, a Taiwanese national, along with Richard’s wife, Mercilyn Huang, a Philippine national.  Prosecutors claim that Palauan police officer Marsei Orrekum was also a partner in the operation, with his name appearing on the Shangrila Massage and Spa lease, bank account and labor documents.
At the arraignment, Mark Doran, an attorney charged with one count of prostitution, represented himself, but all other defendants were represented at this first appearance by the Public Defender.   All defendants entered pleas of not guilty and all were required to surrender their passports to the Court.
The defendants facing the largest criminal penalties, Richard Huang, Mercilyn Huang, Lucius Malsol, and Marsei Orrekum, were required to post both a cash  and surety bond in amounts between $1250 -$2500.  Immigration Officer Chico Tsuneo, Earnest Ongidobel and Mark Doran, charged only with engaging in prostitution, were released on their own recognizance.
All defendants, except for Doran, claimed that they were without sufficient funds to afford a lawyer.  This means that Palau’s government will have to appoint a lawyer for each defendant at no cost to the defendant.   Considering the number of defendants, providing a legal defense in this case is likely to be very costly for Palau’s government.
The Attorney General questioned the Court as to whether Defendant Lucius Malsol should be entitled to a court appointed lawyer.   The Court explained that the “initial decision” of whether a defendant is indigent and thus qualifies for the appointment of counsel is made by the Public Defender.
Another looming issue in this case is simply whether there are enough criminal defense lawyers in Palau to represent these 13 defendants, since after the initial appearance, the Public Defender can only continue to represent one defendant.   There are approximately 15 private lawyers in Palau many of whom have already asserted a conflict that would prevent them from representing any defendant in this case.