Confirmation hearing scheduled for Fiti Sunia, for Judge Pro Tem for District Court
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono has scheduled for next Monday — the last day of the current 3rd Regular session — a confirmation hearing of former attorney general Fiti Alexander Sunia, who has been nominated as Judge Pro Tempore for the District Court.
Sunia’s nomination was yesterday introduced in the Senate following the official submission by Lt. Gov. Lemanu Peleti Mauga, who is also acting governor.
Local statute states that there are one or more district court judges and a district court judge shall be learned in the law and appointed by the Governor upon the recommendation of the Chief Justice and confirmation by the Senate.
Additionally, one or more district court judges may be designated as judges pro tempore at the time of their appointment. A district court judge pro tempore has all the powers and duties of a full time district court judge while sitting, as assigned by the Chief Justice.
Furthermore, a district court judge shall hold office during good behavior, but he may be removed by the Chief Justice for cause.
In a Dec. 4, 2013 letter to the governor, Chief Justice Michael Kruse recommended Sunia as judge pro tempore, who sits only as assigned by the chief justice. Further, Sunia’s appointment will bring the number of the judicial’s pro tempore panel to two, adding that the other judge pro tempore is local attorney Roy J.D. Hall Jr., who serves from time to time on the district court by assignment.
Kruse pointed out that two pro tempore judges alternating on the court’s case load will not present a budget problem. He also says that Sunia’s appointment “will give the judicial branch added flexibility to especially address the management of its ever growing criminal case load.”
“From my observation of counsel both in and out of court, I am satisfied that Mr. Sunia is highly qualified for the position. He possesses not only the character and temperament, but the learning as well, to be an asset to the Bench,” Kruse wrote.
“His work output has consistently been of high standards; well-prepared with sound analysis as well as a healthy sense of professional candor,” he said and “strongly recommended” Sunia to the post.
Sunia earned his Juris Doctorate in 1993 from Howard University School of Law in Washington D.C. and is a member of the Pennsylvania, District of Columbia and American Samoa Bar associations.
Sunia practiced law in D.C. from 1993 to 1997 at the law firm of Patton Boggs LLP, before returning to the territory in 1997 when he joined the Attorney General’s Office, where he spent eight years, the last three years of which he served as attorney general.
Since 2005, he has been in private practice and appears on a regular basis before all divisions of the High Court as well as the District Court, Kruse said.
In his nomination letter, Lemanu encouraged the Senate for an early review and approval “of this worthwhile candidate” to serve in the District Court.
Lemanu’s nomination letter includes Kruse’s recommendation letter as well as the nominee’s resume, which shows that Sunia’s clientele in the private practice includes corporations, associations, churches, schools and communal families.
Sunia earned a Masters in Public Administration in 1986 from the American University in D.C. and a Bachelor in Public Administration from Drake University at Des Moines, Iowa. The 54-year old Sunia holds the chiefly title of Muagututi’a of Pu’apu’a, Savai’i, Samoa.
Samoa News should point out that over the years, when nominations of judges have been submitted to the Senate, it is sometimes without the Chief Justice’s recommendation letter and a resume. This has resulted at times in delaying the confirmation process, with senators wanting to see the CJ's recommendation.