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Investigators from the PD's Office were ‘no shows’ in court — yet again

Paepaetele Taulua Fruean Suisala Jr.Eddie Fruean
PD White had to ask a Samoa News reporter to translate for his client

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — District Court Judge, Fiti Sunia gave the new Assistant Public Defender a huge challenge yesterday morning, saying if the Public Defender’s (PD) staff continues the practice of not being present in the courtroom, it’s better for the PD's Office to find new people who can appear in court at all times to do their job.

Sunia told Assistant Public Defender, Anna Wells that it’s been a common practice for the PD staff to be absent from court when a lot of their clients need someone who can translate what's being said from English to Samoan and vice versa.

Sunia told Wells that her staff has been absent from the court room many times, leaving her and other defense attorneys in the dark on how to communicate with their clients who are not fluent in English.

The judge said the only thing the PD’s office can do, “is either order them to be here or find new people who can be here at all times to do the job.”

“It seems that you and I are doing the job that they are paid to do. This is not something that you and I have to do, it’s something that they must do,” Sunia said, referring to the two PD investigators, who also act as translators. They are: Paepaetele Taulua Fruean Suisala Jr. and Eddie Fruean.

It was during Fetu Leota's case that a problem arose. The court was having a hard time trying to explain to Leota what was going on with his plea agreement with the government.

Leota was initially charged with public peace disturbance; however, under their plea, Leota agreed to plead guilty to the amended count of intoxicated pedestrian.

When Sunia asked Leota about his plea to the amended charge, his response was, “I did not disturb the peace in my village.”

Sunia, through the court interpreter, tried to explain to Leota that the public peace disturbance charge is now amended to a much lesser offense, which is, being intoxicated while walking on the road.

“What is your plea, do you plead guilty or not guilty?” Sunia asked Leota. His response was, “I did not drink on the road, I drank my beer in front of my house.”

Sunia shook his head while looking at Leota, who was sitting next to his defense attorney. The Judge then asked Leota the same question again.

“What is your answer to the charge of intoxicated pedestrian? Guilty or not guilty?” The defendant did not respond; instead, he just sat and looked at the judge.

“Do you admit that you walked on the road intoxicated? Whether it was on the road or the side of the road?” Sunia asked Leota, who paused for a moment before saying, “Yes, I plead guilty.”

The court then ordered Leota to pay a fine of $110 within 30 days.

Neither one of the two translators from the PD's Office was present in court during yesterday's proceedings.

After delivering his decision, Sunia turned to Counsel Wells and told her that it's sad to see her sitting in her corner and hardly communicating with her client.

“Your office has to be here helping out with your client or at least somebody has to be present in court,” Sunia said.

Samoa News should point out that before court proceedings started yesterday, this reporter was called over by Public Defender, Michael White to help translate to Leota all the conditions of his plea agreement with the government. Samoa News agreed to help.

This is not the first time this problem — PD translators not being in court — has happened.

Last week, another case similar to Leota’s case also came before the court. It was when the Judge asked the defendant about his plea that the defendant appeared totally confused.

As a result, Sunia called for a brief recess to allow the court interpreter to help translate to the defendant the conditions of his plea bargain with the government.