By Lagi Keresoma
APIA: WEDNESDAY 26 FEBRUARY 2014: For the first time in the legal history of Samoa, a graduate of the University of the South Pacific (USP) was sworn in as a Judge in a three hour ceremony yesterday morning.
Judge Fepulea’i graduated from USP Vanuatu Law Campus in 1998 and entered the bar in 1999.
“Your admission to the bar in Fiji meant that you immediately became eligible to apply to practice in 12 jurisdictions of the USP member countries, a first for any law school,” said Mareva Betham – Annandale, President of the Samoa Law Society.
At the time of Judge Fepuleai’s admission to the Samoan bar in 1999, the USP law graduate was “an unknown quantity”.
“It was a time when many questioned the quality of law students produced by the USP Law School, and their credibility as lawyers,” said Mareva.
Attorney General Aumua Ming Leung Wai remembered how Fepuleai’s family went to the Prime Minister to allow Fepuleai to take law in New Zealand.
However, the change in Government policies would not allow it, as all law students had to go to USP to take up law and Fepuleai was one of them.
Aumua believes the appointment of Fepulea’i to the bench will be a challenge to all USP law graduates.
In his welcome speech, Chief Justice Patu Tiavaasue Falefatu Sapolu cautioned Fepulea’i of the tough work ahead of him.
He said that the Courts have had an eye on Fepuleai for some time but wondered if an offer would be accepted or not.
His Honour spoke highly of Fepuleai’s character as a lawyer who has appeared regularly before the Court, as calm, committed, soft-spoken and always well prepared in representing the interests of his clients – characteristics he is certain will do him well in his new position as a Judge.
Fepuleai’s appointment brings the number of judges to eight, 4 for the Supreme and 4 for the District Courts. He will mainly deal with Court of Appeal cases in the Lands and Titles Court which is a growing area of cases following the decisions of the lower court.
Judge Fepuleai was emotional when he acknowledged the appointment and the support from his lawyer colleagues, family and friends.
He made special mention of his former mentor Ms. Katalaina Sapolu and legal partner Patrick Fepulea’i.
In June 2001, he joined the Sapolu and Lussick Barristers and Solicitors firm as a staff solicitor.
“She encouraged me to research more and persevere in following the law,” said Judge Fepulea’i of her mentor Katalaina who has since left Samoa to work for the Commonwealth Secretariat in London.
“It was Katalaina who encouraged me to continue the firm by myself when she left to work with the Commonwealth,” said Judge Fepulea’i.
Against all odds, he established his own law firm known as Ameperosa T. Roma Law which he operated for six years before merging with Patrick Fepulea’i to form the Fepuleai & Roma Law Firm. That association ended yesterday.
Fepuleai’s legal career started at the Inland Revenue Department in 1998 before taking up a legal position with the Samoa National Provident Fund from 2000 to 2001.
Bringing a light hearted moment to the subdued swearing in ceremony, Judge Fepulea’i referred to his role as Secretary of the Samoa Rugby Union which he said the Board had one of the hardest jobs because of criticisms from the public.
“Now when the Sevens team wins, the public praise the players and when the team loses (as in recent sevens competitions), people blame the Board.” There was laughter from the bench and guests.
“With my appointment as Judge, I now end my association with the Union as Secretary,” he said as there was more laughter.
Bringing to the bench 14 years of legal experience, Fepulea’i is the youngest Judge to be appointed at 37 years old.
He is married to Diana Peters, also a lawyer by profession and have five children.