Kruse issues multiple orders in lawsuits over COVID-19 declarations
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Trial Division of the High Court has denied a temporary restraining order (TRO) sought by Steven Jay Pincus Hueter to enjoin the governor and ASG from enforcing the governor’s COVID-19 emergency declarations.
The court’s two-page decision was signed by Chief Justice J. Michael Kruse last Friday, not long after oral argument were heard on Hueter’s TRO motion. Oral arguments were also heard that morning and taken under advisement on Friday on two separate preliminary injunctions sought by Hueter and Bryan Jackson — dealing with enforcement of the governor’s declarations.
As previously reported by Samoa News, Jackson was the first to file a complaint against the governor and ASG over the emergency declarations and Hueter later filed his complaint.
The court decision explained that Hueter had filed a TRO and preliminary junction on June 15th and the court denied the TRO two-days later. The defendants — governor and ASG — then filed, a motion on June 23 to dismiss the complaint and also opposing the preliminary injunction.
Hueter filed July 2nd an amended complaint which prayed for, inter alia, another TRO.
According to the court, the procedural validity of Hueter’s filing of the amended complaint after defendants filed a motion to dismiss is a subject of dispute and is scheduled to be heard in court on Aug. 11th.
“As plaintiff’s amended complaint is not yet ripe for adjudication, we decline to rule on any temporary restraining orders contained in the plaintiff’s amended complaint as it is not apparent whether the plaintiff filed the amended complaint in compliance with the Trial Court Rules of Civil Procedure,” Kruse wrote in the court order.
At the last Friday morning hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction, Hueter referenced multiple proposed TROs, one such proposed order being filed shortly before the court convened at 9a.m., the ruling said, according to Kruse, who points out that the proposed order by Hueter contained no supporting motion.
And during Friday’s hearing, Hueter orally referenced his intention to attend Samoan Christian Unity Church in Tafuna after 9p.m July 10th and before 5a.m. July 11th, the court decision said.
(Samoa News notes that provisions under the governor’s Sixth Amended Declaration allow public gatherings and other events to operate from 5a.m to 9p.m every day.)
Hueter, during the hearing, asked that the defendants “temporarily be enjoyed from enforcing” provisions of the 6th Amended Declaration, as it relates to activities after 9pm and before 5p.m.
Having considered Hueter’s oral arguments regarding the proposed TRO filed July 10th, and plaintiff’s oral motion for a TRO, the court denied the TRO, according to the decision.
While a court ruling was pending on the TRO, Kruse informed Hueter — during the oral arguments — not to attend any church service. Kruse repeated this message twice, as Hueter had mentioned a couple of times during the hearing that he wanted to attend a church service that evening, after 9pm.
At one point during the hearing, Hueter wouldn’t stop speaking while Kruse was addressing certain issues. That prompted Kruse to tell Hueter not to speak over what he was saying.
Hueter appears to take the “do not go to church”, statement as a threat against his freedom of religion and filed a complaint later against Kruse with the US Justice Department (USDOJ).
The complaint was filed through the USDOJ online portal and identified by name witnesses that day, who are the news reporters from Samoa News and KHJ News, although there were attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office in the courtroom along with an attorney for the defendant.
Also present at the hearing was Jackson, to whom Hueter sent copies of his complaint, as well as to Samoa News and KHJ News.
Jackson in response sent a detailed “Cease and Desist” letter over the weekend to Hueter, saying that “when Chief Justice Kruse told you not to go to church on Friday, he was doing his duty as an officer of the court instructing you to obey the law as it now stands.”
“To do otherwise would be contrary to his sworn oath to uphold the law, as until Gov. Lolo's emergency declarations are overturned, they have the force and effect of law,” Jackson said and that he doesn’t want to be associated or contacted by Hueter in any way or form.
“I do not agree with or support you in any way, shape, or form with your efforts to accuse Chief Justice Kruse of a crime,” Jackson informed Hueter.
“While I recognize that you have the right to pursue your case as you see fit, I want to make it perfectly clear that the two cases are completely separate actions and should NOT be construed or conflated as having anything to do with each other,” Jackson’s letter to Hueter states in part.