Oral arguments in candidate challenge set for Tuesday
The Appellate Division of the High Court has scheduled to hear Tuesday morning oral arguments in the appeal by candidate for governor Save Liuato Tuitele and candidate for lieutenant governor Sandra King Young over the chief election officer’s decision to deny their challenge of the eligibility of four candidates for governor or lt. governor.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse also ordered that the Chief Election Officer, file by 9 a.m. Monday all election office records pertaining to this matter and for all parties involved to file their briefs before the close of business on Monday.
Kruse issued the verbal order yesterday during a status hearing regarding the appeal by the “Save and Sandra” gubernatorial team after Chief Election Officer Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono denied the team’s challenge of the eligibility of four candidates in the race.
The challenged candidates are candidates for governor Lolo Letalu Matalasi Moliga and Dr. Salu Hunkin Finau and candidates for lieutenant governor Le’i Sonny Thompson and Taufete’e John Faumuina. The main gist of the challenge is these candidates didn’t resign from their government jobs prior to active campaigning.
Respondents in the petition are the American Samoa Government and the chief election officer. “Parties in interest” on the petition are the four candidates in question.
Kruse asked for confirmation that ballots in the gubernatorial race are not yet printed and Election Office legal counsel Henry Kappel, representing Soliai and the Election Office said it’s true. Kappel proposed for the appellate court that written briefs be filed by Monday morning and oral arguments to be heard thereafter.
“We’re proposing a much quicker hearing date,” said Kappel, adding that local absentee voting have already started and as of Thursday this week some 25 voters have already cast their ballots for the other races and the referendum but not the gubernatorial race.
He said ballots for this gubernatorial race cannot be printed until this matter is resolved and again requested an expedited hearing date.
Local absentee voters are those who reside permanently in the territory but will be traveling off island on military orders, for medical check ups, conferences or meetings and won’t be on island on election day, Nov. 6.
Local attorney Marie Alailima, who represented petitioners during the 35-minute hearing, was the first to address the court outlining some of the main points of the appeal and the reason for doing so.
According to the petitioners, the chief election officer has authority to review candidate qualification challenges under ASCA 6.0301(f) — which requires the candidates to resign from their ASG jobs prior to active campaigning or at least 60 days prior to election.
“Petitioners believe that a determination that a candidate for governor or lieutenant governor has resigned from employment in the ASG executive or judicial branch prior to active campaigning is a necessary inquiry by the chief election officer before determining whether the candidate is eligible for election under ASCA 6.0301(f),” according to the petition filed with the court.
Local attorneys Fiti Sunia, representing Taufete’e; Sharron Rancourt, representing Le’i; and David Vargas representing both Lolo and Dr. Hunkin-Finau all agreed with Kappel, asking for an early hearing for oral arguments. “Time is very critical,” said Vargas, before a packed courtroom filled with supporters and friends of the candidates.
Assistant Attorney General Eleasalo Ale, representing ASG, says the government is prepared to follow a schedule set by the court.
Associate Justice Lyle Richmond, Associate Justice John L. Ward, Chief Associate Judge Logoai, and Associate Judge Mamea Sala Jr. accompanied Kruse on the bench for this appellate case.
It’s unclear as to when the court will issue a decision after hearing oral arguments, but all parties concerned are hopeful for an early one.