August 25, 2011
Malo and Congratulations ASBA,
American Samoa has a seat in the American Bar Association House of Delegates. This is a great victory for the territory and the ASBA. The ABA is the world’s largest professional organization, with strong influence throughout the United States and the global legal community. American Samoa now has a voice in this organization, and along with our sister territories, we can begin to advance the legal issues facing the islands.
The importance of this opportunity and the organization should not be overlooked. This same meeting was opened with remarks by Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Others present included retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, David Boies, and Ted Olson. This is no small group of lackluster attorneys – we now count ourselves among the best and the brightest. And this organization is not irrelevant to us. Many of the trainings during the annual meeting related to legal planning for times of disaster. There were resolutions on ethics and the judicial code of conduct. One of the main themes was the underfunding of the judicial system. If all of these issues sound familiar, it is because American Samoa faces them as well.
However, in order to advance our agenda before the ABA, we must know what that agenda is and be ready to defend it locally.Now that we are players in such an important organization, we have a great responsibility to present our views on a wide range of legal issues. This will require a significant change of philosophy for the ASBA. In the past, the ASBA has been very hesitant to take a position on issues, even when they directly affect the legal profession in American Samoa. As attorneys, we represent the interests of people and organizations throughout the island every day, but when it comes to representing the interests of the profession, we strive for nothing but neutrality. How can we stand for issues on the national level if we fear doing so on the locally?
We must not be afraid to voice the cause of the legal profession when it is directly affected. One of the most important roles of a bar association is to advocate on behalf of its members. There have been a number of issues, such as judicial nominations, the appellate division, court security, and the disciplinary system, to name a few, that the bar has been hesitant to speak out about. All that happens when we remain silent, is that our positions are not heard. We would never represent a client like that, so why do it to ourselves?
There are many local issues that we can address through our new partnerships within the ABA. These include improving our ethics and discipline institutions, promoting the rule of law in American Samoa, and ensuring that our laws, regulations, and cases are regularly published and publically available. The ASBA is already in talks with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative and the ABA Ethics Disciplinary Team on projects to conduct in American Samoa.
This membership represents a great opportunity, and the ASBA is ready to meet it. But the ABA is just the first step. We are also reconnecting with our colleagues in the Samoa Law Society, and will be participating in a conference they are hosting in November, as well as a Christmas event in Apia. We are also opening up talks with the newly created South Pacific Lawyers Association out of Sydney. We look forward to the new partnerships to improve our justice system and promote American Samoa at home and around the world.