Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Insular Affairs held an oversight hearing on September 18, 2008 regarding Federal court options for American Samoa. Local leaders from American Samoa, including President Lolo Moliga, Speaker Savali T. Ale, and the Honorable Vaitoa Hans Langkilde testified before the subcommittee. Chief Justice Michael Kruse and Governor Togiola Tulafono submitted written testimony.
At the hearing, Faleomavaega said “Congress has an obligation and vested interest in the welfare of the people of American Samoa and I thank Chairwoman Christensen for providing members of this subcommittee the opportunity to hear from the leaders and people of American Samoa, and to discuss the GAO report on the court system in the territory.”
“I wish to congratulate and express my gratitude to Mr. William O. Jenkins Jr., the Director of Homeland Security and Justice at GAO, and his staff for the comprehensive review and detailed report on the American Samoa Judicial System,” Faleomavaega continued.
“This is the first time that the GAO has conducted a comprehensive review of American Samoa’s Judicial System, and the study revealed many complex legal issues that Congress and the people and leaders of American Samoa must address. The GAO report cites three possible scenarios if changes are to be made to the existing court system in American Samoa. These scenarios have equally important costs and benefits, a fact that does not make our determination any less difficult and challenging.”
“Having reviewed the report and the testimony,” Faleomavaega said, “I appreciate Chief Justice Michael Kruse’s assessment that perhaps a simpler solution for consideration would be to establish by Act of Congress, or even Secretarial Order, a federally appointed prosecutor's office in the Territory to prosecute all criminal activity under either local or federal statutes, pursuant to applicable local procedures in the High Court. However, I believe a federally appointed prosecutor should only be allowed to prosecute federal crimes and that the Congress would need to specify what areas of jurisdiction can be given to the High Court for adjudication on other federal matters, leaving the Attorney General to prosecute local issues.”
“Despite the fear some may have that federal presence in the territory could undermine land tenure system and elements of the fa’a Samoa, I agree with Chief Justice Kruse’s assertion that the fundamental issue here is ‘the impartial administration of the criminal justice system.’ Also, because our High Court has limited jurisdiction in federal matters, FBI agents can come to the territory, handcuff and haul off alleged violators to be charged in the federal district court in Hawaii or in DC. This is not right or fair.”
“Therefore, to improve our current justice system, we need to define what other jurisdictional areas could be adjudicated by our High Court, and what should be adjudicated by a federal prosecutor. Once these matters are defined, this is something that possibly could be enacted by Congress. But if so, Congress must provide sufficient funding to provide resources and professional development for our court system.”
“While it is clear from this hearing that a lot more needs to be done to improve and enhance our court system in American Samoa, I look forward to working with our local leaders in resolving this issue for American Samoa’s future,” Faleomavaega concluded.