Humble Beginnings, Proud Heritage: From Childhood in American Samoa to the Court House in Hawaii

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This is the Testimony Presented by Hawaii District Judge Faauuga To’oto’o at his Confirmation Hearing for Circuit Court Judge on Monday, August 2, 2010 at the Hawaii State Capitol. The legislature will decide this week whether to confirm him. After more than 3 hours of testimony from people in support, To’oto’o had just the Hawaii Bar Association’s “not qualified” rating to address, which he does below.


Aloha kakou and talofa Mr. Chairman Taniguchi and Members of the Committee.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. It is indeed an honor and privilege to be here seeking your approval to serve as a Circuit Court Judge in the First Judicial Circuit.   I am truly humbled to be the first person of Samoan ancestry to be considered for an appointment and confirmation to the Circuit Court.

I’d like to share with you a few minutes of who I am. I live in Waimanalo with my wife Sheryl Turbeville and my 9-year-old daughter Moana and all of our animals on our plantation.  I am a family man, a canoe paddler, and a wood carver in the making, a community volunteer, and a District Court Judge.

I grew up in the village of Nu’uuli in American Samoa.  I am the youngest of the children in my family.  My father, who served our country as a Marine in WWII and was a police officer, died when I was a child.  My mother, who was a housewife, passed away while I was away attending college.  My parents were hard workers and instilled in me the importance of working hard, being honest, getting a good education and helping others.

Community Service is an integral part of my life.  In fact, I met my wife out at the Waianae Mall while we both were volunteering with the Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry.  I also volunteer with the Hawaii Youth Challenge Academy speaking to young men and women who are taking steps to get their lives back on track.  I have also been volunteering for years with the Mo’okini Heiau Foundation in Kohala helping to prepare and host Children’s Day and other activities.

One of my more important roles as a judge is being a judge at the Waianae Coast Community Christmas Parade, a community activity my wife and I have enjoyed participating in for a number of years.  I am also a member of for the Lumana’i Awards Committee that gives financial assistance to graduating Hawaii High School students of Samoan ancestry who excel academically in school and are going to college.    I volunteer my time at the Waimanalo Community Fair.

I am also on the Board of Directors of the Kaneohe Cultural Foundation better known as the Kaneohe Canoe Club.  I also volunteer with an elderly program at Kuhio Park Terrace.  Then every Thanksgiving we head out to Nanakuli and spend the day preparing and delivering meals to the homeless along the Waianae Coast. It brings great joy to my family to give others a hand since God has blessed us so.

I graduated from Leone High School and was very fortunate to receive an academic scholarship from the Government of American Samoa for college.  I attended Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and then transferred Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri where I graduated with honors.  I then attended Saint Louis University School of Law in Saint Louis, Missouri where I graduated with my law degree.

After graduation, I moved here and made Hawaii my home ever since.  I landed my first job as a Deputy Prosecutor with the City and County of Honolulu.  I served as a deputy prosecutor for 10 years and it was a great experience.  I started off in District Court handling non-jury traffic trials and misdemeanor cases.  I prepared and argued various motions in traffic and criminal cases. I worked my way up to Circuit Court where I prosecuted a litany of crimes from murder cases to drug trafficking to domestic violence.

I prepared cases for the grand jury, handled arraignment and pleas, and preliminary hearings in both traffic and criminal cases.  All along working closely with law enforcement officers to successfully prosecute cases.  The ten years I spent at the prosecutor’s office was very rewarding as I got the chance to take criminals off the street but most of all I got the opportunity to help victims of crime in their recovery process.

Then in 1994 I had the honor of becoming a District Court Judge in the First Judicial Circuit.  During that time I have gained invaluable knowledge and experience.  I have presided over thousands of cases on the criminal, traffic, DUI, Weed and Seed and civil calendars.   On the civil side, I have handled a lot of small claims trials, motions and TRO hearings and regular claims trials.  On the criminal side, I have presided over a lot of criminal trials, from drugs to Weed and Seed to domestic violence to simple traffic violations. I have also had the privilege and experience to work at all the country courthouses:  Waianae, Ewa, Wahiawa and Kaneohe.

I have also had the opportunity on many occasions to cover the calendar in Circuit Court for both civil and criminal cases.  I have presided over a lot of criminal jury trials, extradition hearings, sentencing, drug court, mental health cases, and hearings on criminal motions filed by both the defense and prosecutors. I have also presided over a civil jury trial and other matters on the civil calendar.  And after every jury trial, I always meet with the jurors to answer any questions they may have about the court system and help them gain a better understanding of our legal system.

As a judge, I take great care in reviewing the cases before me because I understand the impact it can have on the person or persons standing in front of me. If I have to work extra hours or on the weekends to get the job done, I do it without hesitation.  I consider myself a tough but fair judge.  I have made rulings and decisions that have angered some, but in this job, I am not out to make friends.  I have to look at the evidence before me, know the law and render my decision accordingly.  I am a hard worker, decisive and efficient.  I have worked hard for everything in my life.  No one gave me anything on a silver platter.  I am confident that my 16 years of experience as a District Court Judge and the fact that I have substituted in Circuit Court on many occasions, will provide for a smooth transition to Circuit Court.

Mr. Chairman and Committee members, the State Bar Association has found me “not qualified” for Circuit Court.  However, they gave me no explanation, nothing.  When I find a defendant not guilty or guilty in my court, I always give an explanation.  If this is their process, then I accept it and we move on.  But I am truly disappointed.

Please keep in mind, I have been in front of the Judicial Selection Commission 4-times and they have found me qualified for District Court and Circuit Court.  Chief Justice Ronald Moon of our Supreme Court appointed me to the District Court bench after the Judicial Selection Commission found me qualified for District Court.  I was retained twice by the Judicial Selection Commission to continue on as a District Court Judge.  Governor Linda Lingle nominated me to Circuit Court after having gone through the Judicial Selection Commission once again, who determined I was qualified.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman and Committee Members, I respectfully ask you to allow me the opportunity to become a Circuit Court Judge.

With much aloha, faafetai tele, and thank you for your time and consideration.