Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is responding to Governor Togiola’s remarks about the GAO review of American Samoa’s judicial system published by Samoa News on March 21st and forwarded to the Congressman in a letter dated March 22, 2006 and received in his office on March 27, 2006. The full text of the Congressman’s response to Governor Togiola which was copied to the Lieutenant Governor, the President and Senators, the Speaker and Representatives, and Chief Justic Kruse is included below.
Dear Governor Togiola:
I am in receipt of your letter dated March 22, 2006 regarding your concerns about the way I seem to characterize the state of affairs as it relates to my comments as published in the Wednesday March 22nd edition of the Samoa News.
First, you say that you did not say anything to me or in your responses to Samoa News that could remotely be construed that you deemed the GAO investigation as a “witch hunt.” For your information, I am enclosing a copy of a Samoa News article dated March 21, 2006 in which you state that “sending people from outside to investigate the court under the guise of doing a study for this bill really borderlines on contempt, disrespect and lack of sensitivity to the Chief Justice and our Judicial System.”
Clearly, your words imply a witch hunt and I am disappointed that you would suggest that federal officials conducting a GAO review of our entire judicial system would do so under false pretenses. While I cannot quite determine why a GAO review makes you feel so uncomfortable, I will address the other issues you have raised regarding the High Court’s authority.
In my comments to Samoa News, I stated that a GAO study would help us determine whether the High Court of American Samoa could be designated to handle cases that are usually assigned to federal district courts to adjudicate. Our Senate President also raised this very issue during the Fono hearings and questioned whether or not the High Court can be authorized by Congress to consider cases that are usually adjudicated in federal courts. I agreed that this would be an excellent point to take up as part of the review process. You responded by saying “that question was long answered and settled by Congress itself.” This is not so and I believe you have been misinformed.
While it is true that our High Court has been given authority by Congress to enforce certain OSHA laws and while the High Court also adjudicates maritime matters, our High Court has not been vested with the authority to adjudicate criminal and other important federal matters. In fact, our High Court has very limited federal jurisdiction and this is why a GAO study is needed to determine if our High Court could be designated to handle other cases that are usually assigned to federal district courts to adjudicate. Enclosed is a 1994 report from the US Department of the Justice which I trust will simplify this matter.
Finally, I wish to respond to your comments published by Samoa News on March 21, 2006. In the article, you state that my recent actions regarding the federal court bill “demonstrate that [I] do not listen to the people and acknowledge their opinions.” I am disappointed that you have taken such a position but, just as you have not been listening to the concerns of some of our Fono leaders and members, you are certainly entitled to your opinion.
But my record is clear. In 2001, my office conducted a survey and more than 76% of the more than 2,000 individuals who responded agreed that American Samoa should be provided with a Federal District Court with limited jurisdiction. Since 2001, I have also brought this matter before your predecessors and our Legislature. In fact, since 2001, I have requested input from them regarding establishing a federal court with limited jurisdiction and I have met with them on more than one occasion.
For you to now suggest that I have not sought your input or input from the Fono is unacceptable. My office stands prepared to provide you with letters and other information on file in my office that show how many times I have reached out to our local leaders. I have reached out because I believe that the people of American Samoa deserve to have important matters resolved in a timely manner and, in my opinion, no matter is more important for our future well-being than resolving the problems associated with our judicial system.
Faleomavaega concluded his letter by saying, “For this reason, it is imperative that the GAO conduct a thorough review of our judiciary system.”