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.