Justice Kathleen M Salii (Source: Palau International Coral Reef Center-PICRC)

Justice Kathleen M Salii recused herself from further proceedings in the disputed land case of Ngercheu Island located in the Peleliu State on Friday last week. The decision comes after a motion to disqualify trial judge was filed on Tuesday.

The motion was filed by the counsel representing respondent who calls himself Edaruchei Clans Idesiar Lester Ngirameked, Harry Rubasch Fritz and Iptik James Ngirachedeng.

A petition was filed in September last year by Joseph Koshiba who desired clear title to Ngercheu Island in favor of what he calls Edaruchei Clan by quieting all other claims. The basis for the motion for disqualification of trial judge was that Justice Salii happened to be from the same lineage(maternal) of the petitioner.

Justice Salii, the motion claimed, shared a great grandmother with the petitioner and hence was related by consanguinity. Justice Salii was not just related to Joseph Koshiba but also the three material witnesses who were his sisters. The judge even shared a relationship with the other members of the Koshiba family which includes petitioner’s brother as well.

The court however had not revealed the relationship shared with the petitioner on record in the past but had given the claimants a chance to object if they feel a conflict of interest is a possibility. As the respondent was unrepresented earlier, the opportunity given to raise objection over the possible bias was without effect.

The motion was the first “substantive” one that the respondent filed and was not as a result of an adverse ruling. It also stated that the presence of actual bias is not the relevant to the inquiry and that unconscious bias can exist even where the judge is acting in good faith. (Eshan Kalyanikar)