LIHUE — In a tense courtroom Friday, Judge Michael Soong heard arguments in a contested court case between a developer who claims ownership of the famed Coco Palms Resort in Wailua, and a group of Native Hawaiians who say they have historical and genealogical rights to the land they’ve been occupying for nearly a year.
Soong said that on Nov. 9, the defendants filed a series of documents including a motion to eliminate the case and a motion to dismiss the case based on jurisdiction. The documents, Soong said, relate to or stem from the defenses claim to Hawaiian sovereignty.
The only issue being heard in court on Friday, Soong said, was the issue of possession.
The case was continued to Dec. 29.
Without professional legal representation, Noa Mau-Espirito and Kamu Hepa testified to their family’s rightful ownership to the land, though Mau-Espirito told the court they did not have the proper jurisdiction to deal with this matter.
“How can there be two judiciary systems in one country?” Mau-Espirio asked. “One is the lawless and one is the lawful.”
Cocoa Palms developer Tyler Greene of Coco Palms Hui testified that his organization was the valid owner of the 17-acre property. He spoke of a warranty deed they received when they purchased the property, their plans to develop the property and how they have been impeded due to the occupiers.
Green told the court that they have attempted to work with Mau-Espirito and Hepa and offered them a position within their company that would allow them to work with the cultural aspects of the land.
Greene said he thought that after their initial meeting with the men, when this option was offered, that it went well, but later, the men decided not to participate.
“The goal has always been to bring back Coco Palms,” Greene said.
Mau-Espirito cross-examined Greene asking him questions about his understanding of Hawaii’s protected people. He asked Greene if he was of Hawaiian lineage. Greene said he was not.
Greene and his partner, Chad Waters, have been trying to restore Coco Palms since 2012. The resort closed in 1992 after it was damaged by Hurricane Iniki.
During public hearings on the Coco Palms restoration project, and decades prior as it sat shuttered, no one claimed land ownership.
The $3.5 million selective demolition process began in June. By spring 2018 crews were initially expected to start Phase II, the renovation and reconstruction of Coco Palms.
The $175 million project will boast about 400 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.
The plaintiff’s and the court, said Mau-Espirito, are continuing with the atrocities that happened to the Hawaiian people 125 years ago and they need to be held accountable for their actions.
“You have no authority or jurisdiction over this matter,” Mau-Espirito said. “These actions that are based on greed, are intentionally causing hardships on the kanaka maoli people Lihue Nation.”
“They have disrupted the lives of our families and children, prohibiting them from providing housing and normal necessities, such as dignity and self respect,” Mau-Espirito said. “In this modern society, how can we let this shame continue? No civilized person or nation should condone tyranny.”
The lawless jurisdiction, Mau-Espirito said, needs to be held responsible for the genocide committed against the kanaka maoli people that began over a century ago and is continuing today.
“The land belongs to a hostile state in an occupied country,” Mau-Espirito told the court.
The contested land is sacred to the kanaka maoli people, Mau-Espirito said. The development of that land will prohibit them from being able to practice their religion.
“The land belongs to the Hawaiian Kingdom,” he said.
He also said there have been ancestral bones found on the property.
Throughout his testimony, Mau-Espirito pointed out errors in Coco Palms title.
After Mau-Espirito’s testimony there was a short recess. When court adjourned, Soong said Mau-Espirito could continue his argument, but he was putting a 10-minute time limit on his testimony, because all of the documents he was presenting were submitted to the court.
Hepa addressed the court in his native language. Because there was no interpreter present, Soong explained to him that the court could not understand what he was saying and gave Hepa the opportunity to give his testimony in English. Hepa declined to speak in English.
After Hepa’s argument, the court denied the defense’s motions to eliminate and dismiss the case based on the lack of jurisdiction.
Soong also said district court doesn’t have any jurisdiction on an action that involves Title II real estate and if there’s a question of title, that would lie with circuit court, but in reference to the action of trespassing or summary possession needs to be submitted to the court with an affidavit of title.
The court, Soong said, has focused in on a couple of documents, including one in which Hepa traces his lineage back to Deborah Kapule, the last queen of Kauai and a certificate of award for the land to Noa Mau-Espirito and his sister.
These documents, Soong said, are not enough proof of ownership.
“The court is finding, title is not in question,” Soong said.
With objections from May-Espirito Soong continued the trial to Dec. 29 at 8 a.m.