Esera appears on bench warrant; date for show cause set for Thursday

ausage@samoanews.com

District Court Judge Fiti Sunia considered sanctioning former KHJ Radio news reporter Tauva Esera, as part of her Contempt of Court case, when she appeared in court last week Friday, after being served with a bench warrant, for failing to appear in Court for an Order to Show Cause hearing that was scheduled for Friday, Dec. 8, 2017.

Esera is accused of using her cell phone to record court proceedings inside the District Court a few months ago, and at the time she was advised by the court to get a lawyer. Her case is pending.

The use of a cell phone and other electronic devices during court proceedings is strictly prohibited, with an admonition from the court — before the beginning of a court session — to turn your cell phone and all electronic devices off.

The Court Marshal confiscated Esera’s cell phone during a court session; he then turned it over to the Court IT person for review.

During last week’s proceedings, Sunia explained the reason why the Court had issued a bench warrant for Esera.

Counsel Jillian Sadler appeared for the government while Assistant Public Defender Ryan Anderson helped Esera when she appeared in Court on the matter of her bench warrant.

Anderson asked the Court to squash the bench warrant, and to allow Esera to be released to await the next hearing on this matter.

Sunia asked Anderson why he believed the Court should squash the bench warrant, to which counsel responded that the reason why Esera had not appeared in Court for her last hearing was that she had an essential obligation that she had to take care of first.

The judge replied, “She has an obligation? But how about the Court Order to Appear during the last hearing?” 

Sunia noted that the Court has already given Esera the chance to retain an attorney, and asked Anderson if Esera had retained an attorney. Anderson was seen talking to Esera for few seconds in court, before he responded, telling the Court that according to Esera, she cannot afford a lawyer.

Sunia then asked whether Esera is willing to pursue her case as Pro Se, and Anderson responded, “Yes your honor, Esera is willing to act as Pro Se.”

(Pro Se is a Latin phrase meaning, “on one’s own behalf”)

The Judge was silent for a few moments, and then thanked the counsel for taking his time to assist Esera on her bench warrant issue; to make sure she received fair presentation.

Sunia said that this court proceeding is for contempt of court and there is a possibility of the Court dealing with the sanction part of this court order, while the case — the use of the cell phone in court — is still pending.

He then called Esera to the witness stand.

With Esera on the stand, Sunia then explained to her that the Court has already played an audio from her cell phone that was confiscated by the Court Marshal. He asked if she was in court when the Court played the audio, and Esera replied yes.

“Do you dispute … that audio?” Sunia asked Esera.

She replied, “I don’t dispute about the audio, but only part of that audio.”

According to Esera, the audio she allegedly recorded did not exceed one minute, it was only a few seconds long.

Sunia told Esera that the audio that was played in court was not recorded on the same day with the other audio. When asked by Sunia if she disputed that she recorded these audios on different days, Esera replied, “I don’t dispute it, but I don’t recall.”

Judge Sunia then continued the case to the date that was previously set by the Court — Thursday, this week, Dec. 21 — where another Order to Show Cause hearing will be heard on that day. The Court is also expecting DPS Commissioner Le’i Sonny Thompson on that day.

BACKGROUND

According to court proceedings, Le’i, did not show — instead he sent his deputy commissioner — to the hearing about a traffic citation against Dorah Sua, who is challenging the citation. Le’i was subpoenaed to explain DPS procedures for police officers when engaging with the community on public highways. Sunia said at the time that while he was aware that the DPS commissioner was going to be a no-show, the substitution by his deputy did not follow court procedures.

Esera is accused of using her cellphone to allegedly record a hearing inside the courtroom two months ago. Sources tell Samoa News that the court marshal confiscated Esera’s cell phone and the judge was then informed of the situation.

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