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Unanimous approval in Senate for Public Defender designate Douglas Fiaui

The Senate unanimously approved Douglas Fiaui as Public Defender in a 16-0 vote following a half hour hearing before the Senate Government Operations Committee, chaired by Soliai Tuipine Fuimaono yesterday.


In his opening remarks in Samoan, Fiaui said when working for the PD’s office in previous years, he was asked how would go about representing anyone charged with a felony or a serious crime. His answer was that he would do everything to protect the rights of every person who is accused.


He noted that he will do everything to make an accurate decision while carrying out his job as Public Defender in representing members of the public. “A majority of the people, they are good people who made wrong and stupid decisions, and a majority of them, when they are sentenced, are ordered to undergo counseling. After that, most become "productive members of society" said Fiaui.


He noted just because he’s a leader in this office does not mean he will think otherwise of those who are charged with a crime. "They are my brothers, sisters and children", he said. He noted there’s an increase of crimes occurring in the territory involving the youth and he’s willing to help these young people.


Fiaui also said he’s seeking the assistance of the legislature given that there’s no available program for those who are mentally challenged or mentally ill who have been charged with crimes.


Senator Sua V Mata’utia, noted that Fiaui is a more than qualified attorney to take on this job and advised Fiaui to learn the Samoan language, saying that the more he understands the Samoan language, the more he will understand the problems and issues that members of the public encounter, while he serves capacity as PD.


Senator Laolagi Vaeao, noted that Fiaui’s  resume is very impressive and commended Fiaui for trying to speak in the Samoan language during his opening remarks.


Tualauta Senator, Magalei Logovi’i said that Fiaui’s qualifications are unquestionable, however the late Senator Tuanaitau Tuia (one of the longest serving members of the legislature), always objected to having a Public Defender Office. “He said its waste of money because these people break the law and here we are giving money to defend them?”


Fiaui responded to Magalei, “We defend the people who are accused of breaking the law and it’s not often, but there are times people are accused of breaking the law and they haven’t broken the law. It's our job to investigate these cases, and to defend the rights of people who are accused of breaking the law.


“If we convict someone of a crime they didn’t commit—and we put them in prison— that would be the ultimate injustice," he said. "So our office is the barrier to that injustice and we are the people who make sure the rights of the accused are protected, and that innocent people don’t go to jail” he said.  


Responding to another question from the senators, Fiaui said that he had gained experience while working at the governor’s office.


“I’ve come to understand how the legislative process works, from working at the governor’s office and it’s a valuable skill to have which will be of good use to the PD’s office” he said.


Senator Mauga Tasi Asuega, commended Fiaui for getting his education and returning home to serve the people. Mauga agreed with Fiaui regarding an increase in crimes involving the youth. “We have to stop these crimes that are on the rise and you can help, given your job as the PD, you can also assist in this ongoing issue”.


Senator Letuligasenoa Soli, one of the eldest members of the Senate told Fiaui, “God gave you the wisdom to determine what is right and what is wrong, I also want to thank the governor, for he trusted you and chose you to do this job and that’s a blessing for you to take. And may the good Lord bless you in every aspect of your life and the job you are about to do in serving the people of the territory."


Fiaui served as legal counsel for the governor’s office during the previous administration, and in this capacity he was able to assist in shaping laws and policies that affected the administration of the criminal justice system of the territory.


According to his resume, Fiaui has extensive experience in researching and drafting legislation and was also tasked with reviewing and advising the former governor on bills approved by the legislature, including those which proposed to amend the criminal justice code.


He provided counsel on extradition petition to and from American Samoa and also reviewed and recommended action on petitions made to the governor for clemency and executive pardons.  


Prior to Fiaui’s tenure at the governor’s office he was an Assistant Public Defender as a trial attorney and handled numerous felony and misdemeanor cases of every grade at all stages of the judicial process.


He was well versed in the nuances of the local criminal laws and is also keenly aware of the challenges face by the PD’s office, according to the governor's recommendation letter. Fiaui is an active member of the American Samoa Bar Association who graduated from William S Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.