Public Defender resigns, saying he's overworked.
By: Tosimae’a Tupua
Public Defender Michael White announced his resignation this week, saying that he couldn't continue in the grueling job of helping lead the Territory’s Public Defender’s office because of persistent personal health problems caused by overwork.
During a telephone interview with Mr White this week, he told KVZK News that he suffered a burnout a year ago. “I experienced two episodes of sudden fatigue in the past month and I was very sick, '' said White. He continued, “The workload was unbearable especially when Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson left. I was left on my own to deal with the caseload”.
White said he “hadn't felt “completely fit” for several weeks and doctors advised him to take a break.
“In the most serious health crisis for decades, the Territory needs a Public Defender who is 100% fit,” White said. “I am not at the moment, and I won't be in the coming weeks if I don't pull the emergency brake.”
White said there are currently 800 or more cases pending with no legal counsel. “It is not fair on the people because they are not getting the type of legal representation they deserve”. He continued, “ I have asked the government for help since 2020 to hire more lawyers but it fell on deaf ears which is a shame because if you are going to have a Public Defender's Office, either have it and fund it properly or don't have one at all,” said White.
KVZK News sent an email to the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Loa Tuimavave Tauapai Laupola who confirmed that Mike White the Public Defender has resigned from his position.
“Because there are no Assistant Public Defenders, we do not currently have a person to step into the role of Acting Public Defender. We are working on that,” said Tuimavave.
He confirmed the Governor had sent a letter to the American Samoa Bar Association, which has been emailed to all current members of the American Samoa Bar Association, to seek an Acting Public Attorney. “At this point, we are willing to consider having an attorney fill the role on a temporary basis while we work on recruiting efforts,” said Tuimavave.
Tuimavave elaborated that the administration has been working on a new ASG-wide attorney recruiting strategy to engage with attorneys who would like to come to American Samoa and then match them with agencies.
“The Attorney General's Office, the Public Defender's Office, and other government agencies have historically recruited attorneys on their own. We believe a cooperative approach will yield better results”, said Tuimavave.
A new assistant public defender is expected to arrive on July 25th.