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TCF inmate’s Federal lawsuit encounters delays during COVID-19 quarantine

James Barlow in a photo from his GoFundMe site
Meanwhile Barlow applies for parole, early release, and commutation

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Territorial Correctional Facility inmate James Glenn Barlow has applied for parole with the ASG Parole Board, petitioning for “early release” from jail and he will also be asking the territory’s governor for commutation of his 24-year sentence.

This is according to a Joint Status Report filed Monday with the federal court in Washington D.C. by Barlow’s legal team and the federal attorneys representing US Secretary of Interior David L. Bernhardt.

As previously reported by Samoa News, Barlow is currently serving a jail term at TCF for a conviction in a case involving three male juveniles. Barlow, the petitioner, last year filed a habeas corpus petition with the federal court in Honolulu challenging his detention in American Samoa after a conviction in the High Court of American Samoa.

In his petition, Barlow argued that various components of his trial violated his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. (See Samoa News Dec. 2, 2019 edition for details.)

However, the Honolulu federal court ruled last December that because the U.S Secretary of Interior has plenary authority over the judicial system of American Samoa, the “proper venue” is the federal D.C. court, where the case was then transferred.

In the latest Joint Status Report filed Monday, attorneys for Barlow and Bernhardt point out that the parties filed a joint status report on Mar. 18th in which the counsel for the Secretary of Interior was attempting of confer with officials in American Samoa to determine how to proceed with this case and that it was expected that this process would take some time.

And so far, the process has indeed taken a great amount of time given the time difference between D.C. and American Samoa and disruptions in the American Samoa Government caused by ASG’s efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

According to the report, Bernhardt’s counsel have only recently been in contact with the territory’s Attorney General to coordinate a response to the petition and only on May 15th obtained documents from the Attorney General’s office regarding the habeas petition.


The report also provided a briefing from Barlow’s legal team, saying that in negotiations between the parties, Barlow’s attorneys have proposed his early release to conclude this litigation in federal court and another case currently pending in the American Samoa court. (The report didn’t provide details of the pending case in the territory.)

The report points out that Barlow, who is 72 years old and in failing health, has been a model prisoner, and has served more than one-third of his sentence. And therefore is eligible for parole or early release under territorial laws.

“He has applied for parole from the Parole Board. He has requested commutation of his sentence from the Governor,” the report said, nothing that Barlow has only recently been provided with the form by the Governor’s attorney to apply for a pardon from the Governor and is in the process of completing that form at this time.

The report notes that the process has taken longer due to current COVID-19 restrictions.

“As was feared, all of these processes have been delayed due to the restrictions imposed during the Coronavirus pandemic,” it said. For example, air travel to the territory has been suspended; while key officials who need to be involved in these negotiations and the matters pending in American Samoa have been stranded off-island until air travel is restored.

Furthermore, the parole application sits on the Warden’s desk awaiting his signature when he returns, while the governor’s lawyer is also stranded off-island. (TCF Warden Tauese Va’aomala Sunia is named as party to Barlow’s petition in federal court.)

“Other responsible officials — such as parole board members, unknown at this time, may also be affected by the travel ban,” it says noting that the US mail service has been negatively impacted. For example, Barlow’s commutation request, mailed from Hawaii (where Barlow’s main attorney resides) on May 5, 2020, has yet to be received by the Governor’s Office — according to the USPS’s website, as of May 17th.

On the positive side, according to the report, is that various government lawyers involved in all these matters have now been identified. And it’s fortunate that they all have telephone numbers, email addresses, and access to the internet.

It also says that attorneys representing Bernhardt “have graciously agreed to propose to the Attorney General’s Office in American Samoa that the parties employ some newfangled space age technology to co-ordinate a virtual meeting with all of the attorneys involved to discuss a just and expeditious resolution of this matter.”

Attorneys for Bernhardt require additional time to assess this case and determine how to proceed, according to the report, which also states that the parties asked the court for an additional thirty days — until June 17, 2020 — to confer and propose a schedule for further proceedings in this case.

“The Court may rest assured the petitioner’s attorneys will diligently pursue settlement negotiations during the extension requested,” the report states.

The court is expected to issue a decision soon on the request for an additional 30-days.