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Tuaolo: why hasn't the local Bar taken any action regarding the lack of lawyers in the territory

Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean has queried why the American Samoa Bar Association has not taken any action regarding the lack of lawyers in the Public Defender’s Office.

Tuaolo commented during the joint budget hearing for the Attorney General’s budget today.

He said the local Bar Association should appeal to the Chief Justice to reconsider his policy on admitting only US Bar members to the local bar to practice in the territory.

According to Tuaolo, the cause of the mounting cases pending before the court is due to the lack of PDs and as a result, overcrowding of the Tafuna Correctional Facility.

He said the Chief Justice wrote to the Governor in June with a follow-up letter this month regarding only one public defender representing hundreds of criminal cases.

Tuaolo asked why the local bar has yet to appeal to the Chief Justice to reconsider his policy and allow lawyers from Independent Samoa to take the Bar exam and practice in the territory as previously.

In response, Attorney General Fainu'ulelei Falefatu Alailima Utu explained that the governor’s office is hiring a new Public Defender and will be advertising this position soon. The same is applied to prosecutors. He said private lawyers have been tasked to represent members of the public. Tuaolo intervened and said that was not the issue.

The predicament faced by the PD now is that they need manpower, so why not open the opportunity to allow foreign lawyers to practice in the territory?

Tuaolo then suggested the Bar Association appeal to the Chief Justice to open the door for lawyers from Samoa to alleviate this long-standing issue.

Additionally, numerous Samoa lawyers have law degrees that can be hired to practice locally.

However, Fainuulelei explained despite the fact there are many lawyers in Samoa, their law degrees are equivalent to that of a Bachelor's. In contrast, lawyers in the US have juris doctorate degrees.

There is a huge difference, he said. According to the Fainuulelei, to practice in America, first, you must get a law degree.

Another three years to get your jurisprudence doctorate, take the bar examination to determine if you have passed the bar. Only then can you practice in America and its territories. It is a complex process, said Fainuulelei.

He said that the Chief Justice is trying to protect the integrity of the lawyer's profession in American Samoa.

Fainuulelei then asked the Senate President if this could be addressed at the leader level.

The Chief Justice was adamant about this policy at his discretion. It comes down to his decision, said Fainuulelei.

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