A senior lawyer representing a pastor of the E.F.K.S Church who has taken the Church’s Elders Committee to Court has questioned the handling of the matter by the Chief Justice, His HonourPatu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu.
Leulua’iali’i Olinda Woodroffe has argued that His HonourPatu should never have presided in the hearing of Reverend Kerita Reupena’s claim against the Elders given his connection to the church.
The lawyer made the point when the matter was back before Chief Justice Patu.
Leuluaiali’i and Rev. Kerita are appealing the decision by His Honour Patu to rule against the claim, dismissing it last year.
According to Leuluaiali’i, her client did not receive a fair hearing because the C.J. is a member of the E.F.K.S.
But His Honour objected.
“When did you or the appellant become aware that I am a member of the Congregational Christian Church,” the lawyer was asked.
“Counsel was aware that you go to church but I wasn’t aware that you were actually one of… this is the instruction from my client that you are involved as a respective member of the church in Malua,” Leulua’iali’i responded.
The Chief Justice was not satisfied.
“I just want to be sure and made clear from you of when did you become aware that I am a member of the Congregational Christian church?” he asked.
“I have always known your honor that you are a part of the church at Vaiala,” the lawyer responded.
“Since I was a little girl at Fa’atoia and you were around. I am a member also of the Fa’atoia E.F.K.S.”
At that point, the Chief Justice asked the lawyer why she had not objected to him presiding over the matter earlier.
“Then why didn’t you object on that basis before I presided in the hearing of the strike out motion and amendment of the substantive ruling if all along you have known that I am a member of the Congregational Christian church?”
In response, Leulua’iali’i said she was “hundred percent confident” in his judgement.
“I have trust and confident in your Honour’s in decisions in the past. I read your decisions and I did not have any good reason to say at the time that you were biased etc.
“It wasn’t until the actual hearing, the process and the procedure.It wasn’t until the actual debt was shown and it wasn’t until I received your affidavit and then I questioned whether that is appropriate for you to be the witness in the matter that you were sitting on.
“So I hope that answers your question.It’s an honest answer.”
Still the Chief Justice insisted.
“The strike out motion by the defendant was heard.You have known for many years that I am a member of the Congregational Church but you did not object?
“The motion to strike out was dismissed you acknowledged it.
“Now that the substantive hearing is done and completed and your client did not win or succeed you now say oh well being a member of the church the case you appeared in is biased, is that what you are saying?”
Leulua’iali’I responded that she believes the trial was not done fairly.
“I am saying respectfully with discussion of that and in my honest opinion the trial was not fairly done.”
The Chief Justice went on to clarify that he is not involved with matters of the church.
But Leulua’iali’i said it’s the perception of a conflict of interest when people look into the matter.
“I’m sure your honor is right but it’s the perception of other people looking in thinking, when they know your involvement.”
The lawyer representing the Elders, Semi Leung Wai,said the matter would be better off in the Court of Appeal.
In addressing Mr. Leung Wai, the Chief Justice said: “You heard Mrs. Woodroffe that I should not have presided in the matter because I am a member of the Congregational Christian church.
“Secondly because my wife allegedly has a debt which again I say that I have made an affidavit that I was not aware of this.”
Mr. Leung Wai responded that the allegations are very serious.
“If that’sthe ground the appellant is submitting that the Judge has to be disqualified because he is a member of such denomination, that means all judges in Samoa would be handicapped from the proceeding because all of them are members of a certain denomination,” said Mr. Leung wai.
“In submission of biased your honor these are very serious allegations.
“We are going round and round and when we look at the submissions we also agree that the matter should be referred to the Court of Appeal.
“Let the matter go to the Court of Appeal for a decision.
“I am having difficulties with the motion from my friend to call.First she makes an allegations that your honor is biased and then she said that she wants you to rehear the same judgment.
“To me I won’t let this contradictive carry on and that is why I say let the matter go to Court of Appeal.”
The matter has been referred to the Court of Appeal.
Last year, Reverend KeritaReupena challenged the Elders Committee’s decision to remove him from a key position of leadership in the Church.