Sunday, November 05, 2006

The High Court of American Samoa

I realized that most of my posts focused on my numerous social activities, but I actually do have a job in American Samoa. The reason I am in Samoa is to serve as a Law Clerk for the Chief Justice and Associate Justice of the High Court of American Samoa. Still love that title. Sounds so fancy. So beyond having a fancy title, what do I do? Good question.
The High Court of American Samoa (above)
The District Court (below) - handles initial appearances and misdemeanors
The main duty is to research and write draft opinions for the Justices. The law is a combination of US law and Samoan customs. Not all of the constitutional protections apply in American Samoa. For example, Samoans have only had the right to jury trials in criminal matters in the last 30 years, no right for a jury trial in civil matters. In addition, the Equal Protection Clause does not apply in the territory. The main reason for this is that almost all the land in Samoa is communal land, which means the family, not an individual, owns and manages the land and it is almost impossible to sell land to some one who is not Samoan.
The High Court has a division - the Land & Titles Division - devoted exclusively to land disputes as well as disputes over the selection of matais. A matai is a village elder who welds a lot of authority and power on the island. There are a bunch of matai on the island and the some matai are more powerful then others depending on the actual title. A new matai is usually selected by consensus among the extended family, but this selection can get messy and a lot of them wind up in the High Court.
In addition to some work with the Land & Titles Division, I have worked on some civil and criminal cases. I have also become an "expert" on intestate succession (what to do when person dies without will) in Samoa. I have had a bunch of those probate cases. The topics for research are really interesting - similar to stuff in the mainland, but just with a Samoan twist. The best part is the Justices are really interested to get our opinion and open to suggestions.
Pictured above are the two courtrooms of the High Court. You might notice that the bench as three chairs - One for the Chief or Associate Justice and the other two for the Associate Judges. The Associate Judges are matai who make sure that Samoan custom is maintained when deciding cases - they are especially important in the Land & Titles Division.
Beyond the research/writing aspect, we also have a bunch of other responsibilities. The clerks are in charge on the library. The first few weeks on the island, we reorganized the library and made it a little more user friendly. We moved a lot of books, but now it looks real nice.
Another duty is to publish the opinions of the High Court. Sadly, for a number of years, the past clerks dropped the ball and no opinions had been published since 1997. oops. Luckily, the last clerks (randy & william) got organized and put together the opinions for the past nine years. They (along with help from some other lawyers on island) got a grant to publish them all. They are currently being edited and hopefully they will all be published by the time Sean and I leave. The first volume should be out by the end of November. Keep your fingers crossed. Sean and I are currently putting together a digest of all the case headings (important statements of law) from the opinions which should benefit the Samoan legal community. It is a monster of a project, but keeps us busy. Here is our office with Sean working hard, or is it hardly working?
We are also currently recruiting law clerks for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 terms. Due to budget issues, the Court only travels to the mainland every other year to recruit new clerks, so we hire for two years at a time. Let me know if anyone wants my job for the 2007-08 or 2008-09 terms...
Overall, I am really enjoying work. I really can't complain about a 8 am to 3 pm work day. The Justices and the rest of the staff are great and the work is interesting, but not too difficult or stressful. I can also wear khakis (or a manskirt), a polo shirt and sandals to work. How cool is that? I have no idea what I am going to do when I go back to Chicago and start working at the firm. oh well.


Christina said...

I am soooo tempted! Did not get any clerkship on the mainland...How are you?

Anonymous said...

Hello, I ran across your blog doing some research -- I am an attorney in California looking to move to American Samoa and would love your job for 07-08. How can I email you to find out where to apply? You can email me at

Thanks, Kat

Zack said...

Hey there,

I stumbled across the page a while ago, and it's pretty interesting stuff. I loved the story about the prison break. Am.Sam. looks like it'd be an awesome place to practice law.

Anyway, I sent out my application, and I'm looking forward to hearing back about interviews.

Thanks for the blog. It makes for great wishful thinking while stuck in weeks of sub-freezing temperatures in St. Louis.


Anonymous said...

I'm a one L in San Diego looking for a clerkship/internship in American Samoa. How did you apply? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Anxious to know what I need to do short of calling the high court in Am Samoa in searching the existance of any adoption records for me there. Have send email letter to their website ( with the request. Thank you.

Larry Lipka said...


I recently graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and was looking to clerk for the High Court in American Samoa. When I was trying to find contact info for the High Court I found your blog. I think clerking in the High Court looks amazing. Do you have any information on how to apply for the job for the 2008-2009 term? Do you know if it is still open? Thanks so much. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
-Larry Lipka

Currey said...

I graduate next year, and am interested in applying for a clerkship in AS. I have the address, but cannot find the names of judges. Any ideas?


Anonymous said...

I am working on my Family History and found this site, I was wondering if you could answer a question, since you served as a clerk in American Samoa.I have not gone back since 1970.

Which court performs marriages?
Please email me at

Fa'afetai lava i lau susuga

Anonymous said...

Wow! Loved your blog about this!

Carol said...

I'm so glad I ran across your blog. I was research attorney from 1984 to 85 to Robert Gardner. So they are still using clerks from the States. I thought there might be some Samoan ones by now. It looks like the courthouse might be the same building but greatly remodeled. I wondered if the tsunami knocked it down. We did publish our decisions. The case reporters were photocopied. There was a cartoon of the justices on the cover. The public defender was injured so I filled in. I wonder if I'm still a member of the American Samoa bar. I would love to hear more from you and compare notes.


Christine said...

Hi, I ran across your blog when I was looking into clerkships for the High Court of American Samoa. I am a 3L at the University of North Carolina and would love to talk to someone about this position. I know it has been a while since you were there but do you happen to know the contact information for the current law clerk? Thanks,

Sophia said...

Just found your blog - very cool. I clerked for CJ Kruse in 2000 and it's funny seeing you sitting in "my" chair by the window, overlooking the mango tree : )

Loved clerking in Pago Pago - thanks for sharing.

Sophia said...

Just found your blog - very cool. I clerked for CJ Kruse in 2000 and it's funny seeing you sitting in "my" chair by the window, overlooking the mango tree : )

Loved clerking in Pago Pago - thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, my experience with the Samoan Court wasn't nearly as positive. Chief Justice F. Michael Kruse illegally overturned the rulings of two Sister State Courts, effectively aiding and abetting in the commission of felony kidnapping and Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution. His decision was ultimately overturned by the Montana Supreme Court, but by then, the damage he and the High Court had inflicted upon my Son was already done! He is rumored to be extremely crooked and corrupt. It has been 8 years since I last had any contact with my Son, and sadly, my Father passed away last year. Kruse played a key role in preventing my Son from knowing his Grandfather. I believe he reflects very negatively on the people of American Samoa, and given the fact that he was an active participant in the child abuse of my Son, many believe that he should be in jail.