Practicing law can be both predictable and unpredictable, with many adventures along the way. It depends on your practice area, the size of your law firm, your colleagues, and your clients. One of my adventures has involved representing a client in a tax dispute halfway around the world.
American Samoa is a U.S. Territory located in the South Pacific below the equator and just east of the International Date Line. It consists of five main islands and two coral atolls. The largest island is Tutuila, where the capital of Pago Pago is located. Just to the northwest of American Samoa is the Independent State of Samoa, which also consists of several islands. For further reference, Fiji and New Zealand are located approximately 800 miles and 3,000 miles, respectively, to the southwest.
Despite its beauty, American Samoa is not a tourist destination. This is partially due to the fact that most of the land is owned communally, and there are rules in place to prevent the acquisition of land by non-Samoans.
Although American Samoa is a territory, it remains detached from the U.S. federal government structure, including the judicial system. There is no federal district court, nor has American Samoa been incorporated into another existing federal judicial district. Rather, the judiciary is defined under the Constitution of American Samoa and the American Samoa Code. It consists of the High Court of American Samoa, a district Court, and village courts, which are all under the administration and supervision of the Chief
For tax purposes, American Samoa follows the Internal Revenue Code unless clearly inapplicable or incompatible with the American Samoa Code. The High Court generally applies the Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure.
American Samoa is not an easy place to get to, requiring flying to Honolulu (approximately nine hours straight through from Chicago) and then from Honolulu to American Samoa (approximately six hours). Depending on the season, there are only two or three flights per week into American Samoa. And, to make things more difficult, the connection time when landing in Honolulu is extremely short, requiring a full-day layover. On one trip, I needed to return home early and could not wait for the normal travel through Honolulu. So I had to hop a flight to Samoa (which was like time-traveling because I had to cross the international date line), take a cab to the international airport, and then fly to New Zealand to Los Angeles to Chicago.
Over the past several years, I have traveled to American Samoa three times. The first was to argue a motion to shift the burden of proof to the American Samoa government, the second was the trial, and the third was for appellate argument. This last trip occurred in December 2022 and, in all likelihood, will be my last visit to American Samoa. My travels to American Samoa were very memorable, for a variety of reasons. A few things come to mind.
My local counsel, Thomas “Bucky” Jones, moved his family to American Samoa from the U.S. a few years back and hasn’t looked back. It was interesting and eye-opening to hear about his experiences as an attorney, husband, and father in American Samoa. I look forward to keeping in touch with him and hopefully reconnecting in person one day.