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Bill introduced to appropriate Quarter Million+ to pay ASG legal debts

Malemo Tausaga (left) and Deputy Attorney General Roy Hall
andrew@samoanews.com

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — ASG Treasurer Malemo Tausaga and Deputy Attorney General Roy Hall appeared before the Senate Budget & Appropriation Committee in a hearing on Wednesday morning to discuss a bill introduced by Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, which “appropriates the sum of $278,000 to provide payment of various legal claims against the American Samoa Government (ASG). Appropriation is required as these settlements meet the statutory threshold set in the American Samoa Code Annotated 43.1212.”

According to the bill’s Preamble, “there is an urgent need to provide funding to settle claims brought by the United States Department of Justice and to settle litigation against the ASG in the High Court of American Samoa.”

The bill appropriates the sum of $278,000 for the purpose of partial payment of settlement amounts agreed upon in the following cases: Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga/ DOL v. ASG and DHSS        $100,000; Mona and Nicholas King v. ASG       $90,000; Howard Dunham v. ASG            $20,000; Lolesio Smith v. ASG     $17,000; Maatulimanu Maea v. ASG        $17,000; Simi Paepae v. ASG      $17,000; and, Togotogo Sotoa v. ASG           $17,000.

Committee chairman Senator Utu Sila Poasa asked Deputy AG Roy Hall to explain the cases for which the funds are to be spent and their breakdown.

Hall explained that the bill is required by law where if any funds needed in a settlement exceeds $85,000 and included in the bill is the identified source of funding for the payment of these settlements. Two of the cases fall under this category.

SIMEONICA TUITELELEAPAGI

The first of the two cases, which fall into this category is the case involving Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga and the Department of Justice versus ASG and DHSS. Samoa News has reported on this case extensively.

According to the Deputy AG, this is a DOJ Civil Rights Division complaint that was filed at the Hawaii Federal District Court, where a former director of DHSS had publicly humiliated, degraded and shamed a transgender person in front of over one hundred employees.

The Department of Justice had received a video recording of the entire public shaming and these actions were determined by the department as having violated the transgender employee’s civil rights prompting the DOJ to file legal action against the ASG.

ASG negotiated a settlement with DOJ and entered into a consensus with the DOJ which was filed the Hawaii Federal District Court and the DOJ initially demanded compensatory damages in the amount of $200,000. However, the AG’s Office managed to negotiate the settlement down to $125,000 and also developed a training program to establish rules for ASG directors and other employees to be aware of and to respect the dignity and personal lifestyles of all ASG employees.

Hall stated that the AG’s Office is paying $25,000 as required by law and the balance of $100,000 for appropriation by the Fono.

MONA AND NICHOLAS KING

The second case involves Mona and Nicholas King versus ASG and LBJ and arose out of the LBJ’s medical treatment in 2018 of Mona King who has claimed that her condition was not properly diagnosed.

The AG’S Office negotiated a settlement based upon the failure of LBJ to properly diagnose her condition resulting in severe pain and suffering that was eventually stabilized after she was sent off-island for special medical treatment.

The settlement of her pain and suffering and general damages was for the sum of $115,000. They had initially asked for $400,000.

The AG’s Office has paid $25,000 as required by law and the balance of $90,000 to be appropriated by the Fono from the identified funding source mentioned in the bill.

Committee chairman Senator Utu Sila Poasa then clarified that the identified funding source was in fact the Supplemental Budget 2021 instead of “the unbudgeted, unexpended and unobligated revenues of the American Samoa Government for fiscal year 2023….” as stated in the bill.

ASG Treasurer Malemo Tausaga agreed with Utu over the discrepancy and clarified that the total amount of the Supplemental Budget 2021 was $7.4 million and $500,000 was earmarked for the payment of settlements of claims against ASG.

The bill will become effective immediately upon passage by the Legislature and approval by the Governor.