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Funds ordered for PD to re-certify for death penalty

Associate Justice Lyle Richmond yesterday ordered the Treasury to immediately issue travel authorization for Siaumau Siaumau Jr’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Leslie Cardin to travel off island to attend a required death penalty re-certification seminar.

Siaumau is accused of the murder of police Lt. Liusila Brown and the attempted murder of another police officer almost two years ago. Following the hearing, Richmond ordered the government to pay up to $4,936, which includes tuition, airfare, per diem and ground transportation for the defense to attend the death penalty seminar.  In granting the motion, Richmond said that the training was necessary so that the defense lawyer can be re-certified as currently qualified to serve as counsel on a death penalty case. He ordered that the funds come “from an account separate from the current fiscal year budget of the Public Defender’s Office.”

Cardin’s expedited motion for funding from the government followed the Public Defender’s Office being appointed to represent Siaumau in this case, in which prosecution has asked for the death penalty. In Cardin’s motion filed with the High Court, she notes that there are two attorneys from the Public Defender’s office who meet the criteria to represent the defendant in a death penalty case, however neither attorney is current with the annual mandatory death penalty training as required by the American Bar Association. She said that an estimated cost for the training is close to $5,000.

The Assistant Public Defender first addressed the issue that she has yet to obtain Siaumau’s file from his previous attorney Tautai Aviata Faalevao, since he withdrew from representing Siaumau due to his health condition and is still off-island. She noted Tautai’s office is still closed and the defendant’s family is trying to get someone who has access to the file.

Cardin told the court that her co-counsel in this matter, Assistant Public Defender Michael White is also qualified to handle death penalty cases, but he also needs re-certification. She added that a similar motion will be filed to make funds available for White to travel off-island to be re-certified to handle this death penalty case.

According to ABA guidelines there must be a minimum of two attorneys assigned to cases calling for capital punishment (i.e. the death penalty).

Cardin told the Judges “there is no money in the Public Defender’s budget available for off-island training” and she could not point out a source of funding, but asked the court to direct the Treasury to make funds available. She added that the annual training is scheduled for January 27/28 at the Alabama Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in Birmingham, Alabama. “These re-certification trainings are not offered every time and certification is needed... to carry out this death penalty case”, said Cardin.

Deputy Attorney General Mitzie Jessop Folau responded in court saying that she is a little surprised the Public Defender’s office does not have a budget for off-island training.

“ASG in general does not have money”, the Deputy AG added.

She said that there could be re-certification training available in Hawaii or California with cheaper airfares. “ASG does not have the money, even we have to bring in experts specifically for this case” she said.

Jessop Folau then told the Judges that she has nothing against it, however the government cannot issue checks between today (Wednesday) and Sunday, as there are procedures they have to go through in order to get a check processed.

She also said, “Given that defense does not have the file, it’s premature; they do not know what issues they are facing until they get the file”.

However, Cardin explained she is aware of the issues in this matter since “this case has been on the Public Defender’s radar in case it would be returned to our office, and I have discussed the case with the defendant more than once”.

Jessop-Folau told the court that it would be expensive and premature.

Richmond did not agree with the government and said it would be more expensive if off-island experts must be flown down to the territory for this matter. He added that what’s important is that the defense lawyer is certified to carry out this death penalty case.

Outside the court house, Cardin said this is the first step in a long process for death penalty cases. “This will enable us to move forward with this case” she noted.

Speaking with Samoa News, Cardin said “the defendant’s family is insisting they will again attain a private attorney...and if so, the Public Defender’s office will certainly cooperate and turn in any files or paperwork that is necessary, but in the meantime, getting a re-certification is required to move the case forward.”

According to the defense lawyer, she and White have previously worked on death penalty cases in Georgia.

Cardin is scheduled to travel this Sunday to attend the two day re-certification training in Alabama. Attorneys must be certified to handle death penalty cases, in order to mount a proper and adequate defense under ABA guidelines, she reiterated.

The local bar association is a full member of the American Bar Association, and in the absence of local provision for handling death penalty cases, Cardin said, “we look to the ABA for guidance.”

Those guidelines have been cited with approval by the United States Supreme Court for death penalty cases.