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PD Fiaui says he is on leave, not “vacation” and court was notified

Former Public Defender, Douglas Fiaui  [SN file photo]]

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Public Defender Douglas Fiaui has dismissed claims that he is on vacation, saying he is on leave approved by Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga and permitted by federal leave law. He handed in his resignation letter last week.

Samoa News had previously reported that Fiaui is currently off island on a “12-week vacation” while two of his clients are appearing in High Court for jury trials, and the court continued both matters because of Fiaui’s absence.

Responding to Samoa News inquiries from last Saturday morning, Fiaui said yesterday morning via email from off island that his resignation letter was submitted to the governor last Thursday. An official response from the governor accepting Fiaui’s resignation has not been made public yet.

“Despite what has been reported in the press, I am not on vacation. For the past three weeks I have been out on leave approved by the Governor and permitted by the [federal] Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA),” Fiaui explained.

(According to the US Labor Department, the FMLA provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. FMLA is designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take reasonable unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons. It also seeks to accommodate the legitimate interests of employers and promote equal employment opportunity for men and women.)

Prior to taking his extended leave from the Office of the Public Defender, Fiaui explained that, “I reassigned my scheduled cases. I also notified the Court that I would be taking an extended leave.”

Asked why he resigned from the post he has held since the Lolo Administration took office in 2013, Fiaui responded, “Unfortunately, my personal circumstances at this time are such that I cannot continue to serve as Public Defender. In a public setting, I prefer not to get any more specific than that.”

He did say that for the past five years “It has been my honor and pleasure to serve the people of American Samoa as Public Defender. It has been my privilege to defend the constitutional rights of the people of the Territory and to seek justice for the indigent accused.”

“I have done my best to fight for the poor, the downtrodden, the forgotten and the damned. I have sought diligently to improve the quality of justice in American Samoa.  Serving as Public Defender has been the highlight of my professional life,” he continued.

Fiaui said he will always be grateful to the Governor and the Fono for twice affording him “such a wonderful opportunity” to serve as Public Defender.

“I have tried to do the best I could, and I hope the Governor, the Fono and especially the people I have worked with personally have found my service acceptable,” said Fiaui, who added that the attorneys and staff that remain at the PD’s Office will continue to provide an appropriate level of service to the people they represent. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw from, to serve their clients.”

Asked if he will return to the territory, Fiaui said he will, “briefly towards the end of the month” and after that, “there's nothing set for now.”

“As a person of Samoan descent, who grew up off-island, I know and expect that from time to time Samoa calls out to me. In my heart, I feel it,” he shared. “When it needs me, and I'm in the position to, I will answer the call and I will return.”

“In the meantime, I will continue to help, serve, and lift up the sons and daughters of Samoa wherever I am,” said Fiaui, who served as legal counsel for the Governor’s Office during the last four years of the Togiola Administration.

A graduate of William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai’i - Manoa, Fiaui is a member of the American Samoa Bar Association.

When he was first nominated in 2013 to the PD post, Lolo said at the time that Fiaui had previously served as Assistant Public Defender where he handled numerous felony and misdemeanor cases "of every grade, at all stages of the judicial process and he is well versed in the nuance of our local criminal laws.”