Tuesday, September 4, 2001

American Samoa
to seek legal stature

The U.S. territory is the only
one that lacks a federal judge

Associated Press

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa >> The case against an accused sweatshop operator has prompted lawmakers in American Samoa to ask for a review of how federal law is applied in the U.S. territory.

The territorial Senate passed a resolution last week calling on the U.S. government and American Samoan leaders to discuss whether Congress should confer limited federal jurisdiction to the High Court of American Samoa.

Lawmakers say the case of Kil Soo Lee has highlighted the confusing judicial situation in American Samoa, which is the only U.S. territory without a sitting federal judge.

Lee is charged in U.S. District Court in Honolulu with abusing and underpaying workers from Vietnam and China at his now-closed Daewoosa Samoa Ltd. garment factory.

His attorney sought to have the charges dismissed on grounds that the Hawaii court does not have jurisdiction, but U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled last week that the High Court of American Samoa does not have the authority to hear federal criminal cases. In her ruling, Mollway said American Samoa is "indisputably not part of the District of Hawaii," but said Lee, a South Korean national, must be tried in Hawaii because that was where he was first brought after his arrest by FBI agents in March.

The resolution recommends that the territorial Legislature initiate discussions with American Samoa's congressional delegate, Democrat Eni Faleomavaega, and the U.S. Department of Justice about whether a bill should be introduced in Congress to allow the High Court to hear cases involving certain federal civil and criminal actions.

The resolution said Congress also could consider whether to create a U.S. District Court or U.S. magistrate office in the territory 2,300 miles south of Hawaii.

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