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On Fridays, Bentley C. Adams III makes his court appearances wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a candlenut necklace. One day recently, he wrote a motion on a statutorily recognized custom called ifoga that offers wrongdoers a one-level reduction in criminal sentencing just for apologizing. The offender and his male relatives place grass mats over their heads, assume attitudes of dejection and spend the day sitting outside the home of the person they’ve wronged until their apology is accepted. When he’s not practicing law, Adams can windsurf, scuba dive in a coral reef, hike through the jungle or play golf on a course with $3 greens fees. He shops for groceries where guavas, papayas and New Zealand mussels are everyday fare. It’s all in a day’s working life for Adams, an assistant public defender in American Samoa. Adams, 47, started a new life on a South Pacific island about halfway between Australia and Hawaii a year ago this month thanks to a midlife crisis that prompted him to sell his family’s home and split his family geographically, leaving his wife and three stepchildren behind in Georgia. Last winter, Adams found himself longing for a change and a slower pace. He’d quit his law firm job after a decade and was running his criminal defense practice out of his home in Thomaston, Georgia. While trolling the Internet and the classifieds, he found an advertisement for his current post on the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers list server. He sent a resume, and to his surprise, had a job offer within a week. So he did what most people in the grip of a midlife crisis only dream of: He moved to a tropical island. LIFE IN PAGO PAGO He lives in the city of Pago Pago, on Tutuila, the main island in the seven-island American Samoan chain. The population is about 60,000 and the main industry is tuna canning. The islands have been an unincorporated U.S. territory for more than 100 years and are administered by the Department of the Interior. After a year there, he says he found what he was looking for and is glad he took the life-changing risk. But paradise has its price. The move has put Adams and his three children from a prior marriage thousands of miles away from his wife and her three children from a prior marriage. His Georgia house was on the market for nine months and two failed closings before it sold, leaving him with a mortgage to pay on a salary lower than the one he’d left behind. “I miss my family back home, and I am kind of isolated,” he says. “It was a lot of trouble to change my life, because by the time you get to my age, you’ve got a lot of roots and a lot of baggage.” He says he hopes he’ll be together with his wife and her children soon. His wife, a nurse, has visited him in Tutuila and has looked at the local hospital for a job, but hasn’t found an opening. For now, he says, “We have a long-distance marriage.” Some of his baggage was debt. Once the house sold and his wife and her children moved into a rental house, Adams says he paid off all his credit cards and most of the family’s other debt. Though he makes less money than in the states — his Samoan job was advertised at a salary of $32,000 to $34,000 — living expenses are dramatically lower, and he pays about $100 a month to rent his Samoan house. “That’s made life a lot better, getting away from the debt and the responsibilities you have back in the states,” he says. Island life also offers the slower pace Adams craved. Though his caseload is hefty and he’s already done five jury trials, he says his workdays are shorter thanks to an island culture that values personal time. WORKDAY ENDS AT 3 Adams typically starts his day at 9 a.m., in court. He’s usually done at court by noon and heads back to the office. By 3 p.m., he says, most workers have left for the day. “Wednesdays,” he says, “everybody pretty much goes and plays golf, because that’s where all the judges are.” Workers accrue annual leave at a rate of one day for every two weeks worked — that’s nearly a month a year. Women with babies get two hours off each day to breastfeed. There are drawbacks to the slower pace, but that’s just the Samoan way, known as fa’a Samoa, according to Adams. “When it takes them one month to hook up your electricity, ‘fa’a Samoa,’ ” he says. “ When you don’t get a phone bill for six months, ‘fa’a Samoa.’ “ Samoans, including those in the legal system, also are more relaxed about their clothing than people in the states — hence the Hawaiian shirts in court on Fridays. With humidity at 100 percent and temperatures between 85 and 90 degrees most days, even during the more formal workweek Adams goes sans jacket, wearing short-sleeved shirts and a tie. Adams’ practice is different from what it was in the United States, too. He often works with an interpreter, because most of his clients are from Western Samoa, a neighboring independent country, where Samoan, not English, is the primary language. Western Samoa is not affiliated with the United States, and residents often stay in American Samoa illegally. Jury trials often last a week because of the time needed for translation. DRUG CRIMES ARE RARE The islands have little stranger-to-stranger violent crime, and drug-related offenses are rare thanks to tough laws. One seed of marijuana gets offenders five years without possibility of parole, Adams says. But domestic violence — which makes up a third of the office’s caseload — and statutory rape are more commonplace. Island culture is more tolerant of spousal abuse and teen sex, despite criminal statutes modeled on U.S. law in these areas. The rest of the legal work tends to focus on drunk driving, drunken fights, and theft or embezzlement from federal programs. American Samoa follows U.S. federal law, but there are important differences. For example, only those who are 51 percent Samoan may own real estate — a restriction that would trigger the equal protection clause in the United States. Though Adams calls that “blatant discrimination” in favor of Samoans, he sees why they wanted such a provision. The islanders felt they needed protection after seeing what happened to land once owned by native Hawaiians and American Indians. Since he’s not Samoan, Adams lives in a neighborhood of rental houses with a number of other palagis — foreigners — including engineers, lawyers, doctors, marine biologists and veterinarians. He says he’s made good friends among the palagis and the Samoans, and his three teen-age children are enjoying an island life rich in sports and outdoor activities. Despite new friendships, he says the hardest part of the transition has been missing his family back in Georgia. Still, he says he’s glad he came and he may even try to stay after his contract expires in a year. “I’ve enjoyed slowing down,” he says. “It’s nice to be able to take a little more time with the children, to read something other than law books, and to have time to think.” Janet L. Conley’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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