Court flags conflict of interest

By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 03 April 2024, 8:00PM

The Supreme Court has flagged a possible conflict of interest between a lawyer and a defendant who is currently residing with the legal counsel after being released on bail pending trial. 

The preliminary matter was raised by Supreme Court Justice, Niava Mata Tuatagaloa on Wednesday concerning Talalelei Pauga’s case. 

Pauga is facing a joint charge of conspiracy to murder the former Prime Minister and veteran politician, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi in 2019. 

He entered a plea of not guilty and was released by the Supreme Court on bail in September 2023 pending his trial.

Several trial dates have been vacated after Pauga filed a recusal application against Justice Tuatagaloa because she presided over his bail application in September 2023.  

At the time Pauga was represented by lawyer Tufuga Fagaloa Tufuga and was granted bail on conditions that he resides at Lalovaea at the residence of Josephine Fuimaono-Sapolu. 

When Pauga appeared before Justice Tuatagaloa on Wednesday he was now represented by Ms. Fuimaono-Sapolu. 

The Supreme Court Justice raised issues about the bail condition for the defendant and whether there was a conflict of interest arising from him being represented by Ms. Fuimaono Sapolu. 

The defence was given two options either for counsel for the defendant to review the bail conditions for Pauga to live elsewhere or consider stepping aside. 

The Attorney General’s Office represented by Lupematasila Iliganoa Atoa and the defence were asked to submit case authorities on the issue raised before it can proceed to the recusal application. 

Pauga sought the recusal of Justice Tuatagaloa arguing she presided over a pretrial application involving the other co-defendants who were sentenced to jail and she was privy to “confidential” information on that matter. 

He claimed that the confidential information that the defendant could not access was a risk to his right to a fair trial and prejudiced all defendants. 

The defendant also noted comments made by Justice Tuatagaloa during his bail application were allegedly unlawful and perceived the risk to his rights to a fair trial. 

The prosecution has opposed the recusal application saying there were no reasonable grounds provided by the defendant for the judge to recuse herself and there were no apparent bias in the circumstances to warrant it. 

The prosecution also claimed the judge had an obligation to preside over the case allocated to her unless grounds for recusal existed. 

By Matai'a Lanuola Tusani T - Ah Tong 03 April 2024, 8:00PM
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