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Editorial: DHHL must focus on its obligations
Honolulu Star-Advertiser Editorial Staff
August 26, 2109

Next year will mark the centennial of when the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act was penned and introduced in Congress. It was intended as a means of addressing the uprooting of the Hawaiian nation by returning Native Hawaiians to the land. About 200,000 acres of the former crown lands were set aside in trust, to be awarded as homesteads to those with 50% or more Hawaiian ancestry.

It was enacted the following year and, with statehood 60 years ago, management of the trust moved from the federal commission to the state, through its newly formed Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). Overseeing the trust became a state mandate, part of the Hawaii Constitution.

But it’s a mandate that has been given short shrift for most of the history of the Hawaiian Home Lands program. For hundreds of those beneficiaries, the trust ultimately would amount to a broken promise. Some 300 to 400 of them died while still on the waiting list, many of them for decades, without receiving a homestead.

And, as if to add insult to that injury, a breach-of-trust lawsuit intended to win damages for the 2,700 plaintiffs still waiting has itself languished for 20 years.

Oral arguments in Kalima v. State of Hawaii, named for lead plaintiff Leona Kalima, were heard on Wednesday by the state Supreme Court. It’s on appeal from a lower court that ruled DHHL was liable for those damages for failing to provide homesteads to eligible Native Hawaiians in a timely manner.

The trust being land-rich but cash-poor for many years is a major reason why it took so long to get off the ground to begin with. So while it may not be surprising that the state is battling to limit its financial liability in this case, it’s still dispiriting. The fact that this legal challenge has been so prolonged and then appealed further is just more evidence of that failing.

What has always been missing is a proper sense of urgency about the state’s mission. DHHL long ago should have been equipped with a more experienced land management team to troubleshoot the logjams and find a better path toward fulfilling its duty.

If the justices uphold the ruling — and they should — it will fall to a special master who will be appointed to decide, administratively, how much actual damages to award. And even there, the state is already wanting an excessive burden of proof from plaintiffs.

Rightly, the justices questioned Hawaii Solicitor General Clyde Wadsworth on why the state would ask plaintiffs to provide evidence of how much they paid for housing on non-homestead properties — going back decades, in many cases. Surely the court master will see to it that the bar is not set quite so high; public records can yield some of the basis for awards.

DHHL is not without its own legitimate complaints about the administrative funding the Legislature has provided so that trust funds need not be tapped. The agency went to court to secure that.

In more recent years DHHL has explored rental projects and other alternative models for providing affordable housing, particularly for those who struggle to qualify for a loan.

But agency officials years ago should have shouldered the responsibility of helping its beneficiaries on the road to financial literacy and readiness for home ownership. Instead, its lawyers are in court arguing that the state is not responsible for delays if they’re caused by a claimant’s failure to qualify and participate in homesteading.

If the present model is not succeeding at putting Native Hawaiians back on the land — and plainly it’s not — Job 1 should have been to come up with another. That is where DHHL’s focus belonged, for the past six decades.


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Plaintiffs Claim Win in Hawaiian Homelands Suit
By Rob Perez Honolulu Star-Advertiser
November 13, 2017

The plaintiffs in a long-running class-­action lawsuit over long waits for Department of Hawaiian Home Lands homestead lots have scored what they consider another crucial victory in court.

Barring a last-minute production of documents, the state no longer can challenge whether potentially hundreds of plaintiffs whose DHHL files are missing or incomplete are entitled to damages — thanks to an Oct. 30 ruling by Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall, according to the plaintiffs’ attorneys….

To read the full article, click here.

Plaintiffs Still Await Data in Hawaiian Homestead Suit

By Rob Perez Honolulu Star-Advertiser
October 30, 2016

Seven years after a favorable court ruling, the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the state and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands are still waiting for state documents they consider essential for calculating damages related to long waits for homesteads.

Attorneys for the 2,700 plaintiffs say at least 600 files are missing, slowing the litigation process and reflecting abysmal record keeping by DHHL….

To read the full article, click here.

In Hawaiian Homelands Suit, Plaintiffs Ask for Special Master

By Rob Perez Honolulu Star-Advertiser
July 23, 2014

At age 87, Irene Cordeiro-Vierra doesn’t expect to see a penny of relief from the state before she dies.

"Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever get anything," Cordeiro-Vierra says, blaming the state for what she considers delayed justice.

The Laie resident and former waitress is one of more than 2,700 Native Hawaiians or their heirs who are waiting for the state to pay damages for failing to deliver Department of Hawaiian Home Lands homestead lots on a timely basis.

Even though a judge more than four years ago found the state liable for breach of trust in a class-action lawsuit the plaintiffs filed in 1999, the case still is moving slowly through the damages phase and is far from being resolved. A recent attempt at court-ordered mediation failed to yield a settlement…

To read the full article, click here.

Long Wait for Justice
By Rob Perez Honolulu Star-Advertiser
July 14, 2013

Caroline Bright applied for a homestead lease in 1959, the year Hawaii became a state.

She died last year at age 87, still waiting for one.

"She gave up on them," said her daughter, singer Teresa Bright. "She lost hope."

Caroline Bright was part of a class-action lawsuit filed nearly 14 years ago against the state for breaching its trust obligation to get Native Hawaiian beneficiaries onto homestead lots.

After a six-week trial in 2009, a state judge ruled that the state and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which manages the 203,000-acre trust on behalf of beneficiaries, breached their fiduciary duty by not issuing homesteads on a timely basis. Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo also determined that the breaches of trust from 1959 to 1988 caused the plaintiffs economic harm and that the state must pay compensation….

To read the full article, click here.


Judge Rules State Breached Home Lands Trust
Craig Gima Honolulu Star-Bulletin
November 5, 2009

 
After a 10-year court battle and decades of waiting in vain for homesteads, plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit won a judgment against the state for failing to promptly award home lots to native Hawaiians under the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust.  

Circuit Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled Tuesday that the state failed in its trust responsibilities and the plaintiffs should receive monetary damages….  

To read Honolulu Star-Bulletin news coverage, click here.



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Vivien Akiyama,
Aug 26, 2019, 7:50 PM
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