THE BAR OF AMERICAN SAMOA
(With links to pertinent documents)
Former President, American Samoa Bar Association
Organization of the Bar
The American Samoa Bar Association is the official organization for attorneys and legal practitioners who practice law in the Territory of American Samoa. It was created by an Act of the Fono, the legislative body of American Samoa, in 1970 to “improve the administration of justice”. See ATTORNEYS AND PRACTITIONERS The Act provides “[a]ll persons admitted to the practice of law on a regular basis before any division of the High Court of American Samoa shall be members of the Bar Association.” Under the provisions of American Samoa Code Annotated Section 31.0101 the Chief Justice of the High Court of American Samoa has the power to adopt reasonable rules and regulations to examine, admit and reinstate attorneys and practitioners to practice law in American Samoa. The Court has adopted Rules of Admission. Under the Court’s rules the Bar of American Samoa is “integrated in that every person who has been admitted to practice law must maintain membership in the Bar Association [ and] [o]nly a member of the Bar Association may practice law in American Samoa.” Rule 140 RULES OF ADMISSION High Court of American Samoa.. (Hereinafter “Rules of Admission”).
Classes of Membership and Dues
“Any person admitted to the Bar who practices law in American Samoa and who is not an honorary member shall be an active member of the Bar Association. Only active members may practice law or vote in Bar Association meetings.” Article I, Section 1, Bylaws of the American Samoa Bar Association. Membership dues are $75.00 per year for active members. “Any person admitted to the Bar who is not a judge and who does not practice law in American Samoa may be an inactive member.” Article III section I CONSTITUTION OF THE AMERICAN SAMOA BAR ASSOCIATION . The dues for inactive members of the association are $35.00 per year. Judges and distinguished non-resident lawyers may be elected honorary members. No dues are assessed against Honorary Members. See Article II Section I CONSTITUTION OF THE AMERICAN SAMOA BAR ASSOCIATION . Members must postmark or deliver their dues no later than January 1 of each year in order to avoid a late fee of $25.00. Members must pay all dues and late fees no later than March 1 of each year or they are in jeopardy of losing their license to practice in the territory.
The High Court has concluded that while the Rules of Admission of the High Court “do not specifically set forth any length of time for resident [sic] prior to seeking admission to practice , it is clear that one must, of course, be a resident in order to apply for admission” to the Bar. Letter of the Hon. Thomas W. Murphy, Chief Justice of the High Court of American Samoa to the Standing Committee on Admissions, November 13, 1981. Applications for admission to active membership made by non-resident attorneys from other states have been denied by the Court. See In Re Applications of Skeels and Huff , Hon. F. Michael Kruse, Chief Justice, May 17, 1995.
Standing Committee on Bar Admissions
Pursuant to statutory authorization the Chief Justice of the High Court of American Samoa has established a Standing Committee on Bar Admissions. The purpose of the committee is “to investigate and determine the qualifications of applicants and to make recommendations to the Chief Justice concerning the admission of applicants.” RULES OF ADMISSION Rule no 133. “The Standing Committee may require the applicant to submit letters of character reference, or may require any other investigation deemed appropriate, including consideration of a report from the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The applicant bears the expense of any investigation up to the amount of $125.”RULES OF ADMISSION Rule No 136.
Qualifications for Admission
“Every applicant for membership to the Bar of American Samoa must be of good moral character. The term ‘good moral character’ includes qualities of honesty, fairness, candor, trustworthiness, observance of fiduciary responsibility, observance of the laws of American Samoa and the United States, and respect for the rights of others and for the judicial process.” RULES OF ADMISSION Rule No 135.
“The applicant must demonstrate the necessary qualifications of learning and ability by proof of having been admitted to practice law before the highest court of record of a State or Territory of the United States or of a foreign country where the English common law forms substantially the basis of that country’s jurisprudence, and where English is the language of instruction and practice in the courts of that jurisdiction; provided that such prior Bar admission was premised upon proof of graduation from an accredited law school and successful completion of a bar examination or of equivalent indicia of learning and ability. (emphasis supplied).” (1)
“The fact that an applicant has practiced for a period of 2 years or more before the highest court of record in a State, Territory of the United States, or of a foreign country where the English common law forms substantially the basis of that country’s jurisprudence, where English is the language of instruction and practice in the courts of that jurisdiction, and which State, Territory, or country extends reciprocity to American Samoa is prima facie evidence of the applicant’s fitness to practice law in American Samoa and to be admitted to the Bar on reciprocity, reserving to the Standing Committee the power to review such circumstances as might be necessary.”RULES OF ADMISSION Rule No 138.
Admission Pro Hac Vice
“A person who is not a member of the American Samoa Bar but who is a member in good standing of and eligible to practice before the highest court of record in any State, Territory of the United States or of a foreign country where the English common law forms substantially the basis of that country’s jurisprudence, where English is the language of instruction and practice in the courts of that jurisdiction and which state, Territory, or country allows members of the American Samoa Bar to appear Pro Hac Vice, may at the discretion of the Chief Justice, be permitted, upon written application, to appear as Counsel Pro Hac Vice. However, an active member of the American Samoa Bar Association must be associated as Attorney of Record, upon whom service of process may be made and with whom the judge and opposing counsel may communicate concerning the action. A person permitted to appear as counsel Pro Hac Vice pursuant to this rule is subject to the jurisdiction of the High Court with respect to the Disciplinary Rules to the same extent as a member of the American Samoa Bar Association.” RULES OF ADMISSION Rule No 145.
“Any person seeking admission to the practice of law in American Samoa must file with the Clerk of Courts a formal application in a form furnished by the Clerk, which must be made under oath and must contain such information relating to the applicant’s age, social security number, residences, addresses, citizenship, occupations, general education, Legal education, and moral character. Each application must be accompanied by a $50.00 filing fee payable to the American Samoa Bar Association.” [Comment: the fee is now $100.00.[*]] RULES OF ADMISSION Rule No 134.[†]
A copy of the application may be obtained here. This form is for informational use only, and any formal application must be routed through the High Court Clerk, who may be contacted at email@example.com. As a reminder, applications may not be submitted unless the applicant resides in the Territory.[‡]
1. Rules of Admission, Rule 137. In practice the emphasized language has been held by the High Court to require persons seeking admission to the Bar to have graduated from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and passed the bar examination of a United States state or territory. The Bar of American Samoa consists of attorneys and “Legal Practitioners”. These non-attorney legal practitioners were admitted to the Bar prior to the adoption of Rule 143 of the Rules of Admission which became effective on February 11, 1981. The rule provides as follows: “(a) Only those legal practitioners currently members of the American Samoa Bar Association are permitted to practice law. No new legal practitioners will be admitted to the Bar in the future. (b) No legal practitioner may form a professional association or a professional corporation.(c) No legal practitioner may be associated with an attorney. However, an attorney may use the services of a legal practitioner on a case by case basis. (d) Legal practitioners may not advertise as “legal counsel”, “counselor”, “Law office of ” or otherwise infer in any advertisement that he or she is an attorney. (e) Legal practitioners may use the letters “L.P.” after their names for the purpose of denoting his or her profession. (f) Legal practitioners are authorized to practice only in the Land Titles Division of the High Court, in adoption matters in the District Court, and in all matters in the Village Courts. (g) Legal practitioners are permitted to practice in the Appellate Division of the High Court in those Appeals originating in the Land and Titles Division of the Court.”
All contents, text, images, data, information and other materials contained herein are for general informational purposes only and are not intended to constitute legal advice or legal services. While the author and editors of the above admissions information have attempted to be accurate and complete, neither the author, editors, or the American Samoa Bar Association warrant that the information is complete or accurate. The author, editors, and Bar disclaim all liability to any person for any loss caused by errors or omissions in this collection of information. The above admissions information and materials should not be considered a substitute for legal advice or consultation with a qualified American Samoan attorney.