Fono officially confirms the AG
The Fono has officially confirmed Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s nomination of Talauega Eleasalo Ale as Attorney General for the next four years. Talauega is the first cabinet nominee confirmed by the Senate and the House.
Both chambers handed down their respective votes yesterday, with the Senate giving a unanimous approval vote of 16-0 and the House voted 15-2. Talauega went through a confirmation hearing yesterday before the Senate Government Operations Committee and Tuesday afternoon at the House Legal Affairs & Judiciary Committee.
The 49-year old Attorney General was first appointed by the governor three years ago, after then Attorney General Afoa L. Lutu stepped down at the beginning of 2014 to take up one of the three senatorial seats for Ma’oputasi County.
Hearings in both the Senate and House covered a wide range of issues, especially the Immigration Office, as well as immigration law and policies. Samoa News will report in a future edition on other issues raised by the Fono.
Sen. Taua’a Saunoa Vaouli asked what Talauega would do if a situation arose in which he and the governor have a conflict or disagreement over the interpretation of the law.
Talauega first pointed out that his role as Attorney General is to provide legal advice to the governor and he thanked the governor that there hasn’t been any issue raised in the last three years in which the two have had any conflicts when it comes to the law; and Talauega believes it would never happen.
Responding to a question from Sen. Fano Shimasaki Fano, Talauega said he supports drug testing for ASG employees and that there are some agencies already conducting drug tests. However, he said such tests are expensive and are done off island, but didn’t have on hand the cost per person for a drug test.
Unlike the Senate confirmation hearing, which lasted 90 minutes, the House’s hearing was two hours long, where House Vice Speaker Fetu Fetui Jr. raised his concerns, based on news media reports that it appears prosecutors are not prepared when cases — especially the serious ones — are called in court. He asked what’s being done to address this problem.
In response, Talauega said he doesn’t accept this criticism against prosecutors not being prepared and reminded the committee that the work of law enforcement starts with a police investigation and the police report is then submitted to the AG’s Office where it’s reviewed and a decision is then made on whether charges are filed.
If a police report does not reach the AG’s office, there is nothing his office can do without that report, said Talauega adding that he has heard about this criticism many times, but when he looks into such an issue, in the end there is nothing at all to the criticism.
There is no case in which police prepared and submitted a report, but the AG’s office didn’t carry out its work, he said, and reminded the committee that his office working together with police is very important.
“If there are no reports from the police, there is nothing the Attorney General’s Office can do,” he stressed. And after a police report is submitted, he said there is still a lot more work to be done by both sides before any charges are filed in court.
He prays that with the change at the leadership of Public Safety, referring to the new acting Police Commissioner, the relationship between his office and police will be more positive — with both sides continuing to work closely together.
Samoa News should point out that it has reported many times about cases being called but having to be continued after the court was told that prosecutors had not received the police report; and just recently the court released a man due to the lack of a police report to support the charges. However, Samoa News has also reported of the courts’ concerns when cases are not moving forward because the AG’s Office is not prepared, i.e. it says it is still reviewing the case.
Responding to another question from Fetui, Talauega said that the AG’s office currently has four Samoan attorneys and seven hired from the US. He said that his office has a year-round advertisement to recruit attorneys — not only locally but also from the US.
Currently it has been difficult to hire attorneys locally and that’s why the AG’s office depends on attorneys hired from the U.S, he said.
The number of attorneys in the AG’s office was also raised in the Senate. Another issue raised in both chambers, is Talauega’s opinion on electing the Attorney General and this issue has been raised over the years in the Fono, discussed during gubernatorial debates and in the 2010 Constitutional Convention.
Talauega noted that there are many elected posts for American Samoa — the governor and lieutenant governor; members of the local House of Representatives; and the Delegate to the US House. Additionally, the Attorney General is part of the Executive Branch (along with the Legislature and the Judicial branches of government) and electing an Attorney General means that would create a fourth branch of government. He said the Attorney General should not become a political matter.
The acting AG said the US territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas elect their attorneys general, and he has seen the good and the bad side of an elected AG. He said the AG is the top legal advisor to the governor and works together with the governor to benefit the people of American Samoa.
He believes the current set up for American Samoa is good. However, if there is a change — maybe one of them is to have a voice in the Fono. For example, in Hawai’i, the governor appoints the Attorney General and the appointment is confirmed by the state Legislature, which also confirms the removal of the Attorney General if sought by the governor.