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Expedited trial denied in Alataua senate dispute

The High Court has denied an expedited trial hearing date in the complaint filed last week by Alataua County traditional leader, Faletogo Tafavalu Taliloa, who claimed that he was duly selected during a Dec. 8 county meeting as Alataua’s next senator, while alleging the Office of Samoan Affairs’ interfered by certifying another county chief as senator.

Defendants listed in the suit are Samoan Affairs Secretary Lefiti Pese Atiulagi, Samoan Affairs deputy secretary Afuola Nanai Kalasa and the American Samoa Government. Parties with an interest in this matter are Faletagoa’i Iati Tuiolemotu and the Senate.

Faletogo, through his attorney Marcellus Talaimalo Uiagalelei had requested an expedited trial hearing date, noting that Jan. 3 is fast approaching — the date when the new lawmakers take the oath of office.

However, Chief Justice Michael Kruse denied the request and there was no explanation provided. This means that Faletogo and his attorney have to go through the usual court process of waiting for 20 days for the defendants and others parties to provide an official response to the complaint before a hearing date is set.

Faletogo in his complaint alleges that Lefiti certified the selection of Faletagoa’i during a Dec. 18 meeting held at the Office of Samoan Affairs, which was not a duly called county meeting. He also claimed that Lefiti is not a chief with Alataua nor is Lefiti the county chief, who is authorized by law to certify the selection of senators for each county.

Faletogo said his certification was certified by the Alataua county chief, or fa’alupega. (See last Saturday’s edition for full details of the complaint)

It remains to be seen if both Faletogo and Faletagoa’i will show up on Jan. 3 for the swearing in of senators. It also remains to be seen as to what the Samoan Affairs Office will tell the Senate about the Alataua county seat.

The last time Alataua’s seat was challenged in court was in January 2005 in a complaint filed by Pulefa’asisina B. Tuiasosopo over the certification of Liua P. Taifane, by the county chief. Pulefa’asisina claimed that he was the one selected for the seat, not Liua, who had just completed a four-year term in the Senate for the county.

After three days of testimony in court, the matter — following recommendation from one of the county chiefs  and concurrence of the court — the matter was returned to the Alataua county council for further deliberation and a final decision.

The county a few months later submitted their selection and certification of Pulefa’asisina as their next senator, which was endorsed by the Senate.