Former top prosecutor denies "bad attitude" dig
The country’s former top prosecutor, Tofilau M. Leone Sua-Mailo, dismissed recent claims that a recent string of departures from the Attorney-General’s (A.G.) Office, begun by her own, reflected staff "attitude" problems.
The Samoa Observer recently reported on a spate of lawyers who had resigned from the Office of the A.G.
The report led the Attorney-General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, to suggest that the resignations had nothing to do with her recent appointment to the job but were rather caused by “attitude problems”.
“Their departure reflects poorly on them i.e. not being able to handle the standards of work ethics I set!,” she said in an e-mailed response to the Samoa Observer on Sunday.
But on Wednesday Magele dismissed any imputation that her departure was a reflection on her work ethic.
“I had devoted all my time and energy to prosecution and can say for certain I have exhausted all I could possibly do to set a high standard for prosecution and ensure prosecutors do justice by our people,” she told the Samoa Observer.
“I had served my Government and the Office of the Attorney General for 15 years as a prosecutor.
“[It was] my first and only job after graduating, I dedicated all of my working life to serve the [A.G.’s Office] where I worked fearlessly and without compassion to serve our people.
“From a law clerk to becoming Assistant Attorney General, my service had surpassed a decade.”
Tofilau resigned from office a few weeks after Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale was appointed to lead the Attorney-General’s Office.
Her resignation has been followed by at least ten others, according to sources with knowledge of the matter but who are not authorised to speak publicly.
Magele had prosecuted over 800 cases.
The latest resignation was last week, when the Principal State Prosecutor, Ann Matalasi, resigned from her post. Attempts to contact Ms. Matalasi have been unsuccessful.
A number of other legal staff have also resigned including Mathew Alai; Priscilla Betham; Natasha Schuster; Victor Ale; Shalon Time; Elizabeth Tagi; Miracle Fuiavailili; Debbie Tuitama; Peleuila Itulā ; and Everett Sioa.
Separately, an employee in the office’s corporate services division, Paulo Leapai, has also resigned.
But in a statement issued on Tuesday evening, Savalenoa criticised the Samoa Observer’s reporting on the issue as inaccurate and biased.
When initially contacted for comment the Attorney-General had previously declined to confirm the number of departures during her time in the job.
But she flatly denied that the 10 names of resigned lawyers from the office were prosecutors.
“Of the ten names listed only three are prosecutors,” she said.
“Secondly, not all 10 listed were resignations, some were non-permanent positions where the period of their working arrangement with my Office had expired, and the incumbent did not wish to reapply for the said position due to competing obligations, primarily further studies and family commitments.
“At least, that was the advice given to my Office.
“Lastly, all three prosecutors that the Samoa Observer listed had tendered written resignations and were accepted by me for the reasons provided in their letters.”
The statement says the errors reflect poorly on the quality of reporting in the Samoa Observer.
“The other [resignations were] lawyers working under other divisions of my Office,” she said.
“While the others are non-permanent staff engaged for a short term to assist in the legal work of the Office including criminal prosecutions.
“As I said in my email to the Samoa Observer, staff leaving for their own reasons is part and parcel of any workplace and life moves on.
“I make clear here that of all resignations to date, not one of them cited my appointment or my management as a reason for their departure: most left to explore private practice, some to other opportunities in Government, and a few for personal reasons, such as to care for their elderly parents.”
The Attorney General further attacked the Samoa Observer.
“I reiterate that this Office will not be held to ransom by a few with attitude problems nor tolerate sensationalised reports of ‘turmoil’ from Samoa Observer,” she said.
“If [the] Samoa Observer cannot confirm who is a prosecutor and who is not, how can the public expect it to uphold journalistic principles of fairness and impartiality?
“Perhaps, the Samoa Observer should concentrate on properly vetting the accuracy of its reporting and the intentions of its sources, before rushing to the printers.”
But the Samoa Observer can reveal that the Attorney-General’s statement came the day after the closure date for a recent request for applications to join the Attorney-General’s Office from the Police and Prisons Ministry.
In a confidential memo, dated 15 January and signed by Deputy Commissioner, Papali'i Monalisa Keti, the Police Ministry solicited applicants to join the office of the Attorney-General. The deadline for applications was listed as just three days after the memo was sent.
Prosecutors with at least five years’ experience were sought to pursue cases in District Court; Faamasino Fesoasoani court; and traffic and inquest-related legal matters.
Tofilau told the Samoa Observer the decision to resign on 25 August 2020 was not easy but was warranted due to the demands of family life.
“Life as a prosecutor is taxing on one’s professional and personal life,” she said.
“God's timing and direction, it was the opportune time for me to retire from the life of a public servant so that I can dedicate my time and energy on my [four] girls and family and take on a different career path for my own professional development.
“This direction led to me entering the private sector which has opened up the opportunity for me to again serve the public through my firm,” she added.
Tofilau acknowledged the Government for the opportunity to serve and cement her career as a lawyer.
“The standards and ethics which I had developed through my years as a prosecutor are deeply embedded and thus will shape me to be a better lawyer,” she said.