A new judge in Samoa
Samoa's new District Court Judge Leilani Tuala-Warren says "not in a million years" did she ever imagine herself on the bench, and never did she have any aspirations to become a judge. But in August 2013, the University of Waikato law graduate and former lecturer was sworn in and became just the second woman judge in Samoa to be appointed to the District Court.
In Samoa, you do not apply to become a judge - you are chosen by the Chief Justice and approved by the Judicial Service Commission. "It was his Honour our Chief Justice, Patu Tiavaasue Falefatu Maka Sapolu who persuaded me to accept the position," says Leilani. "He said to me, 'the path that you have set for yourself is not necessarily the path that God has chosen for you."
Leilani (pictured middle) was raised in Samoa and attended Leififi College. She graduated with a Master of Laws degree (with Distinction) from Waikato in 1996 and returned to Samoa to work for the Office of the Attorney General before coming back to Waikato to teach at Te Piringa - Faculty of Law and Waikato Management School.
She returned to Samoa to practice law in her family's firm, Tuala & Tuala Lawyers, until November 2008 when she was appointed Executive Director of the newly established Samoa Law Reform Commission, which she says prepared her well for her new position.
There's no formal preparation for becoming a judge, bu tbeing a capable lawyer is important first and foremost, says Leilani. "You become the best lawyer that you can be and that prepares you for the bench. There are a few formal orientation programmes but you mostly rely on other judges who guide you into the role."
Leilani is married to Aidan Warren, also a Waikato graduate and a director in the Hamilton law firm, McCaw Lewis. Together they have three children and another due in December. Leilani stays in Samoa and Aidan travels back and forth.
She has fond memories of her time at Waikato, as a place that fostered and nurtured self-development and independent learning and allowed her confidence to grow.
"I hope that what I have achieved will set and continue to set a good example to students in Samoa, especially young women who are interested in the law."