Judge rejects application in Malietoa contempt of Court hearing
District Court Judge Alalatoa Rosella Viane Papali’i has rejected an application from the Office of the Attorney General to recuse her from presiding over the hearing of a contempt of Court matter against Malietoa Papali'i Moli and other matai from the village of Malie.
The application was filed by Attorney General’s lawyer, Iliganoa Atoa, in the District Court on Wednesday, claiming that Judge Alalatoa carries the same last name as one of the defendants in the hearing.
A recusal application calls for a presiding Judge to disqualify himself or herself from involvement in the case on the grounds that he or she is biased.
Sixteen matai from the village of Malie, including Malietoa Fa’amausili Moli, have been charged for disobeying an interim order to stop the bestowment of the title Malietoa to Faamausili Moli.
Tauiliili Harry Schuster is the lawyer for 15 matai while Matafeo George Latu is representing Malietoa.
In delivering her decision on the recusal application, Judge Alalatoa said she has no personal or financial interest in the matter.
She made reference to a test to determine and examine such application, which includes identifying what is the merit and legal issue involved in the case.
“I fail to see how my last name and in my connection to the title deviates me from deciding on what is fair in the interest of justice and the merit of the legal issue that we are supposed to be deciding at this preliminary stage,” said Judge Alalatoa.
“Accordingly, I must also add that I have given my oath to conduct myself in a manner that I should with partiality and independence and pass judgement that is fair in all circumstances to all those involved.
“As indicated in the open Court I do not have any financial interest to Fa’amausili. He does not owe me money, I do not owe him anything.”
The Judge said if she had personal interest she would have stopped the bestowment of the title.
“I have clearly indicated in this Court that there is no reason why I should not preside on this matter,” she added.
“There is no reason for apprehending that I would be deviating from determining this case other than on its legal and factual merits and there is no reason for saying that I would not be doing so.
“Accordingly the application by prosecution for me to recuse from this case is rejected or refused.”
The Judge told prosecution they have the Court of Appeal if they wished to appeal her decision.
Lawyer Matafeo also filed an application for stay of proceeding questioning the validity of the interim order issued by the Court Registrar. He also filed a motion to quash the charge against his client.
Matafeo told the Court the Land and Titles Court had ruled and made a final decision for Fa’amausili to be bestowed the title of Malietoa and an interim order should not supersede that decision.
He described the complainant in the matter as disgruntled parties that used the interim order as a backdoor to challenge the L.T.C's. final decision.
The Court heard that the complainants and the issuant of the interim order was based on request from some chiefs of Afega who objected.
But Matafeo disputed this.
“This would mean that any disgruntled party who is not involved in the proceeding can later on go to the registrar and get an interim order and try to undo a final decision,” said Matafeo.
“If that is correct then anyone who is disgruntled can go the registrar and issue an interim order for to stop a final decision.”
Matafeo said if the party had an interest in the matter they should have filed to be a party of the proceeding and be involved from the beginning. He said the interim order is invalid and is contrary to the final decision of L.T.C. Court.
Lawyer Tauiliili agreed.
He asked that the charges against the matai he represents be quashed because the matai were conducting the bestowment of the title in accordance with the L.T.C. Court decision.
Tauiliili pointed out there are two avenues the complainants should have taken.
“There are two ways they should have gone about is applying for a stay of proceeding (for L.T.C. decision) and secondly they should have appealed it in which the Court of Appeal had the authority to overturn the decision (from L.T.C.).
“None of that was carried out and done to issue this interim order.”
Tauiliili reiterated the matai obeyed a Court decision to conduct the bestowment of the Malietoa title and should not be charged for doing so.
Judge Alalatoa adjourned the matter to 24 May to deliver her decision on the applications quash the charges and stay of proceeding.