The first Samoan woman to become the Vice President of the Land and Titles Court, Fa’amausili Tuilimu Magele Solonaima Tauiliili-Brown, is calling it a day.
The 70-year-old is retiring after 16 years of defying the odds in a position predominantly held by men. Looking back on her time, she tells the Sunday Samoan she is contented.
She is grateful to the almighty God for his guidance, provision and she is equally grateful for the support she received from her family, government, supporters and people who prayed for her.
During an interview with the Sunday Samoan, Fa’amausili admitted she had no plans to be a Judge.
But a personal experience with the L.T.C changed that.
“The first time I sat in the L.T.C. was during the hearing of a matter concerning a matai title that was held by my uncle (in 2003),” she recalled.
“The verdict from the presiding Judge was we were no longer heirs of the title yet my uncle had held the title for 50 years. It (decision) broke my heart because we were defeated.
“That motivated me (at 55 years old) and I said to God, I want to be a judge because I am passionate about the truth and I felt that the decision was not right.
“That was the reason why when I saw the advertisement in 2004, decided I will apply for the position.”
From 178 applicants, Fa’amausili prevailed. But she wasn’t handed the role on a silver plate.
The work she did before prepared her for what was to come.
Before Fa’amausili moved to Samoa in 2003 to set up Lafitaga, a non government organisation social service provider in Apia, she had lived in New Zealand for 30 years.
She was the founder of the Lafitaga Organisation there which served over 170,000 Pacific people by providing counseling, motivation in schools, parenting, immigration assistance and other community work. The N.G.O. in N.Z. still exists, working with other small N.G.Os in the country.
For all that work, Fa’amausili was awarded the Queen Service Medal in 2001. She was also recognised as a Justice of the Peace in New Zealand.
So when she applied for the job, she had quite powerful backing with former N.Z. Prime Minister, Helen Clarke and former Minister, Lilomaiava Phil Goff, being her referees.
When her application for L.T.C was successful, Fa’amausili decided to close the Lafitaga organisation in Samoa. She was the second woman Judge from Leaupepe Faimaala and she was excited to work.
“I truly believe in the proverb ‘e au le inailau tamaitai’ (women achieve what they set out to achieve),” she says with a smile.
But becoming a Judge wasn’t enough, she wanted more. Her next mission was to be the first woman Vice President.
“I told myself I am not here for a picnic I want to be the first woman Deputy President,” said Fa’amausili. “Apparently the men (judge) did not want a woman to be appointed to the position and I wanted to change that.
“So one morning in 2008 the Chief Justice driver approached me that the C.J. wanted to talk to me. I thought to myself what have I done.
“I was surprised when I got there and the C.J. told me the Judiciary has decided that I am the Deputy President. I cried and I said what about my brother Judges that came before me.
“The response I got was, the appointment used to be on seniority but now it’s on merit.”
“The C.J. said to me it was my decision and all appointments are from God. I believed that it was from God and I told myself; how could I reject this honour from God.”
She said the rumour mill was vicious, with some people saying the decision was biased.
“I was called the space filler,” she recalls. “It was because when a Court didn’t have enough Judges on the bench, I always volunteer to sit in so that the matter can proceed and not be delayed.
“That is how I got that name but I kept in mind how costly it is for people traveling from overseas to attend a matter and how it feels when these matters are postponed again. I have been there and done that.”
It’s not always easy to adapt to a new working environment especially when you have lived in New Zealand for so long. Although she was Samoan, having lived in another country with people share a slightly different world view on matters is sometimes difficult.
“When I came I would say to my brother judges complimenting them that they looked nice but our men are not used to it,” Fa’amausili said with a smile.
“They think that when you say those things you wanted something from them. I would buy their ties and fix their lavalava because when we sit on the bench, I want to look good and I wanted them to feel the same.
“They didn’t like me doing that from the beginning but in the end I guess they didn’t mind. I respected them and they respected me. I wasn’t doing it for anything…I wanted people to see us on the bench and be well presented with my brother Judges.”
One of the highlights of her time was when she presiding over a matter between two senior Deputy Presidents. Fa’amausili said she would never forget that case.
“I was the Deputy Judge chairing a case between two senior Deputy Presidents,” she said.
“So you can imagine how I felt that these were senior D.Ps and I was fairly new in the job.
“I don’t think that had happened before and I don’t think it would happen again.”
How she dealt with the matter, Fa’amausili said you do what is right.
“I think if you can be at peace when you are asleep and God knows that you had done your utmost best with the decision you delivered, then he is pleased and I have to be bold to do that.
“We can’t please everyone and unfortunately not everyone can win.”
Part of the L.T.C Judges work is to inspect land boundaries especially in land dispute cases.
One case Fa’amausili had to deal with was about land on the Manono mountains.
“To me, I kept in mind one of the questions asked by C.J. during my interview. He asked me what would I do if there was an inspection on a mountain where some elderly judges cannot make it up there,” she recalls.
“My response was if they cannot go up there they should not make a decision. I thought of what I had said on that day when we went up the mountain. I felt my heart coming out of my chest but I made it up there and knew that whatever decision we make it would be the right one because I have seen it and I was there.”
For 16 years Fa’amausili has been on the bench, she has enjoyed every bit of it.
“I really believe it was an appointment from God,” she said.
“When you know it is from him, you wake up in the morning, you go to work happy and you enjoy it.
“When I first went in L.T.C for my uncle’s case, I knew then how important this position is because it will affect those who are not born and those that have already passed away.
“I think if you want a job because of something that happened to you it’s obvious that it’s important to you and you need to work hard for it.”
At the age of 70, Fa’amausili said she is praying for God’s guidance and to give her direction to her a new adventure.
The grandmother took her love for God to her role as a Judge where she would say prayers in Court before every case.
On one occasion at the Fa’amasino Fesoasoani (FF) Court, she had asked the Police that she would like to say a prayer first before Court proceeds.
“I have to say a prayer because I am stupid and I want God to help me with my work,” she said.
“First time I did that – police were silent. Third time I said a prayer there was a loud amen from police at the end of the prayer. You have to be bold and God had put me there so how can I not put him first?
“I say a prayer in Court because I know that the people involved just want to hurt each other (not physically) and saying a prayer always helps to calm any tension between them.”
Fa’amausili retired from her work two weeks ago.
Now that she is retired, she said she was asked to re-open the Lafitaga in Samoa but she is giving it some thought.
In the meantime, she wants to visit her grandchildren in New Zealand.
Married to Michael Brown, Fa’amausili is from the villages of Malie, Afega, Iva Savai’i and Fasito’o.
She was born in Tokelau where her mother was a nurse.