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Afoa at AG’s post for second time

Former attorney general Afoa Leulumoega Su’esu’e Lutu has returned as the new attorney general under the Lolo Administration after being fully confirmed by the Legislature. Afoa got approval from the Senate yesterday in a 16-1 vote, while earlier this week he was endorsed by the House in a unanimous 15-0 vote. Afoa had previously served as attorney general under the Lutali Administration from 1985 to 1989 and since 2011, the local honorary counsel for the Republic of Korean in American Samoa. Afoa appeared yesterday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing, where committee chairman Sen. Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono reminded his colleagues at least three times that Afoa is not new to this post and is a well known member of the legal community as well as a matai title holder in the Ma’oputasi County. Sen. Laolagi F.S. Vaeao noted that Afoa’s resume states his post for the Korean government and as chief legal counsel for the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS). The Manu’a senator wanted to know if the nominee had stepped down from both posts. Afoa explained that due to a conflict of interest, he submitted his resignation letter to the Korean government after being appointed to attorney general by the governor. In the letter, he said, he thanked the Korean government for the appointment and suggested the appointment of any local person to take up this post in the territory. As for the CCCAS post, he said he plans to step down once his current term expires.The issue of whether or not to arm police officers while on duty was raised with Afoa by Sen. Magalei Logovi’i who stated there are now reports that the new police commissioner (William Haleck) appears to favor having police officers carry guns. Magalei sought an opinion on this issue saying that “we are opening up a new can of worms” for American Samoa, but didn’t elaborate further. Afoa replied that he hasn’t seen any details about this matter but reminded senators that the Fono reviews and approves new laws that they see fit for the territory and therefore any final decision rests with the Senate and House. However, he did say that he has no opinion or comment on this matter at this point in time, but can return at a later time to provide such information to the Senate. During his confirmation hearing, Haleck told House members that he is seeking permission from the governor and lieutenant governor to allow officers to carry guns while on duty. During the Senate hearing, Sen. Alo Fa’auuga requested the nominee, that if fully confirmed, to look at local statute dealing with chiefly titles, saying that some matai titles are held by two, sometimes three or four individuals. Alo said this is happening too often and the attorney general’s office should enforce local laws, which prohibit such practice. Afoa responded that he does not want to intervene in chiefly title matters, which are the responsibilities of traditional leaders within the respective villages. He said he has the utmost respect when it comes to the responsibilities of traditional leaders and wouldn’t infringe on their roles in the community. But if confirmed by the Fono, Afoa said he will fully enforce local law, and wouldn’t allow the registration of more than one person to hold a matai title. At the same time, he requested senators, who are ranking traditional leaders, for their help in matters pertaining to chiefly titles for this particular issue raised by Alo. (Samoa News raised the issue, when the Senate President’s credentials were questioned in 2008 when he was first appointed to the Fono — apparently there are two Gaoteote title holders. At the time, Samoa News obtained a copy of Gaoteote Tofau Palaie’s title registration with the Registrar’s Office of American Samoa. The second title holder, Gaoteote Tapatonu Gaoteote, is not registered. However, he was able to serve as the Eastern District governor in the last four years, which unlike Senate requirements, does not call for the post to be held by a “registered” matai, only by a “leading” matai.)Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie shared with Afoa some public concerns that have reached the Senate which are also being discussed in the community. This deals with “selective prosecution” by the attorney general’s office when it comes to ASG employees, who are accused of an alleged crime. Gaoteote said this is probably one of the reasons that the issue of electing the attorney general for American Samoa was on the agenda for discussion in the 2010 Constitutional Convention. He said some people want this post to be independent from the executive branch. (Afoa was executive director of the 2010 Constitutional Review Committee). Gaoteote said complaints are that the attorney general’s office takes a long time to prosecute a government employee accused of a crime while a non-ASG employee is quickly prosecuted with the matter sent to court expeditiously. There are also complaints about some ASG employees accused of crimes having their cases prosecuted expeditiously, while other ASG employees do not, he said, adding that there should be fair treatment for everyone when it comes to enforcement of the law. Another matter raised by senators with Afoa is the full enforcement of immigration laws. Senators were in agreement during the hearing that Afoa is highly qualified for the post, because he is not only a former attorney general, but was chief legal counsel for the 1986 Constitutional Convention; was chief legislative counsel and director of the Legislative Reference Bureau from 1997 to 2004; and had practiced law in the territory for nearly 40 years.“Aside from his legal expertise and experience, Afoa has continually demonstrated his commitment to serving his family, village and community, as well as improving the lives of the people of American Samoa,” said Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga in his nomination letter to the Fono.