The High Court has taken under advisement a request by Jennifer Tofaeono to travel off island to attend meetings, which is connected to her current employment with the local non-profit organization, Alliance Against Domestic Violence, which was established about seven years ago.
Tofaeono, former LBJ Medical Center business manager, was released last May from jail after serving 16 months behind bars as part of her 20-month sentence for conspiracy to commit felony stealing of hospital money to the tune of $50,000.
The defense filed a motion to amend conditions of Tofaeono’s release to allow her to travel to Hawai’i and the US mainland for meetings between this month and May this year. In his oral arguments at Monday’s hearing, Tofaeono’s attorney Marcellus Tala Uiagalelei explained that his client works for a local non-profit organization, writing federal grants that help fund the group’s various programs.
The first-set of meetings is Mar. 3-17 in Honolulu and Detroit, Michigan, followed by meetings from Apr. 7 to May 1 in Hawai’i, Virginia and Nevada. Uiagalelei explained that these are very important conferences and meetings, which are all helpful and important to Tofaeono’s work. Uiagalelei also noted that ever since Tofaeono was released from jail, she has abided by all conditions of release, including making payments towards the restitution ordered by the court.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse raised several questions, including the importance of such conferences and Uiagalelei replied that this is a chance for Tofaeono to discuss and exchange various aspects of the group’s work in American Samoa and how federal grants are utilizing the programs in the territory.
Kruse said the court doesn’t question the fact that Tofaeono will return to the territory after her meetings, but the court’s concern is whether it’s fair to those serving time behind bars if the court allows someone to travel off island while on probation. As far as the court is concerned, Kruse said, inmates at TCF have the same rights as those on probation.
To emphasize his statement, Kruse pointed to inmates in orange jumpsuits, sitting behind Uiagalelei in the courtroom waiting for their court hearings, as the individuals with the same rights as a person on probation.
When called to the witness stand to provide sworn testimony regarding the conferences, Tofaeono said the goal of these meetings is to focus on the future of federal grants as well as ways the NGOs are working diligently to prevent domestic violence including violence against children.
She also explained the work of the Alliance, which currently gets funding from the Criminal Justice Planning Agency and the Department of Human and Social Service — both ASG entities fully funded by federal money.
After her testimony, Kruse announced that the defense motion is taken under advertisement. It’s unclear as to when the court will issue a decision.
BIOLOGICAL FATHER GOES TO TRIAL ON SEX CHARGES
A father accused of sexually assaulting his biological daughter has maintained his innocence, and his lawyer has requested a trial date, which has since been scheduled by the High Court for Sept. 18, 2018. However, the trial will be moved forward to Nov. 20 this year, if this date becomes available.
With no plea offer from the government, Public Defender Douglas Fiaui informed the court during a recent pre trial conference hearing that his client is prepared for a jury trial.
The defendant, who is out on bail, is charged with four felony counts and one misdemeanor count in connection with the alleged sexual assault which was reported to police on Dec. 6, the same day the alleged incident occurred in the early morning hours, according to court documents.
While out on bail, the court has a pending order for the defendant not to make any direct or indirect contact with the victim — his 13-year-old daughter — and to find another place to stay while the case is pending in court.
To protect the victim, Samoa News does not identify the defendant in these types of cases.
FA’ASILI AUPAAU & DAVID FO’A
Based on a request by the prosecutor, the High Court has continued to tomorrow a status hearing on the government’s case against Fa’asili Aupaau and David Fo’a — each defendant is charged with one count of second degree burglary for allegedly breaking into a home several weeks ago.
During the court hearing, assistant attorney general Bob Picket says police have received new information after interviewing witnesses, who stated that that there is another incident in which the pair had allegedly broken into another home and stole the homeowner's property.
Based on this new information, Picket said the government could file additional charges against the defendants, after the police investigation.
Chief Justice Michael Kruse said the court is concerned with delaying cases against defendants who are entitled to speedy trial under the law. And if the government takes no other actions in this case by tomorrow, the court may move to dismiss the current charges.
The two defendants remain in custody unable to post bail.
(Original Samoan stories published in yesterday’s Lali section of Samoa News.)