Lawyer weeps in Court, cites threats and security for delay
District Court Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i has told lawyer, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, to submit the grounds for their application for “King Faipopo” to vacate his plea in relation to a Criminal libel charge against him.
King Faipopo, as he is is better known, is Malele Atofu Paulo.
Last month, Paulo pleaded guilty to a criminal libel charge for making defamatory comments against Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi. But it has emerged he now wants to vacate that plea.
When the matter was called this week, Malele was not present in Court.
His lawyer, Unasa, however, informed the Court she was unable to submit their legal submission.
“I apologize profusely your honour,” she said. “Threats against my family have derailed our thoughts as we are still working on security and our safety. I had also informed the Acting Chief Justice in another hearing last week.”
Unasa, who was in tears, said she was not trying to make excuses.
“We have always been prompt in all Court submissions. This time it is difficult to focus when there are threats and it involves my family; the lawyers in my family,” she said. “I’ve got grandchildren and everything is irrelevant when it comes to our security.”
Judge Alalatoa questioned why the defense counsel did not ask for continuation. She reminded that the submission was due on 23rd August 2019.
“I did see you in Savai’i last week,” Judge Alalatoa said.
Unasa responded that she “completely forgot” about the deadline for the submission.
“And it wasn’t deliberate. It wasn’t until I saw an email that came,” said Unasa.
According to the defense lawyer, all that was filed was the application and the affidavit.
“I need time to file submissions,” she told the Court.
The Prosecutor, Iliganoa Atoa, opposed the application. She also informed the Court that in light of the change of plea, it is their intention to reinstate the 14 original charges filed against Paulo that had been withdrawn.
But Judge Alalatoa ruled that her application for reinstatement of charges must be submitted in writing.
“There was certain implication during chamber meetings of that intention,” said Judge Alalatoa.
Unasa was then asked to explain the grounds of their motion to vacate the plea.
But the lawyer said the defense has no obligation to divulge their defense.
The Judge would not allow it.
“In an application to vacate plea under section 72 of the Criminal Procedures Act 2016, there are three main elements and one of those grounds is as if there is defense.
“And in all the cases in Samoa and New Zealand on such matters, it is prudent, in fact critical, that the defense point out what those defenses are.”
The Judge warned that it is not enough to just “flag it.” She said the details are needed.”
In the end, Judge Alalatoa granted the three weeks adjournment for defense to file submission by 26th September 2019.
The prosecution was also given two weeks to allow them to review the submission and file a response by 9th October 2019.
The hearing has been scheduled for 14th October 2019.