The two leaders of a mainly Native Hawaiian group occupying the former Coco Palms resort in Wailua apparently have no ownership rights to the property, according to papers obtained by The Garden Island, despite their contentions in the civil ejectment case against them in District Court.
A trial in the case enters its fourth full day today before Judge Michael Soong.
Noa Mau-Espirito and Charles Hepa have said throughout the eviction case that they have vested ownership rights by virtue of Hepa’s descent from Deborah Kapule, the last queen of Kauai, But a newly revealed title history of Coco Palms shows that Kapule’s family lost ownership rights in 1883.
Ironically, Kapule’s descendants were removed from ownership of land on which much of Coco Palms now lies as a result of an ejectment case brought by the last member of Kapule’s family with legal claim to the land against Junius Kaae, who had apparently leased the property. In 1883, the supreme court of the Hawaiian Kingdom ruled in Kaae’s favor, awarding him legal title to the property that now includes much of the Coco Palms resort.
These details emerged in a five-page sworn declaration signed last August by Colleen Uahinui, lead senior title abstractor in the Historic Title Services Department of Title Guaranty of Hawaii, Inc., in Honolulu. The company is a dominant issuer of title insurance in the state.
The Hawaiian Kingdom supreme court ruling in favor of Kaae appears to have rendered nonexistent any ownership connection between Kapule’s descendants and Coco Palms.
A copy of Uahinui’s declaration was obtained by TGI. A review of court records in the pending criminal trespass case of Mau-Espirito and Hepa — scheduled for trial for next month in Circuit Court — found that Kauai County Prosecutor Justin Kollar’s office included Uahinui on a list of prospective witnesses, although a related exhibit list does not include her declaration. The witness list was filed last November.
Reached for comment Monday afternoon, Hepa declined to say anything about the newly surfaced title history report on the record. He again asserted — reiterating claims he has made in court repeatedly — that he has genealogical evidence confirming he is a descendant of Kapule.
Kollar said his office did not request the report, but discovered it among prospective evidence files it obtained from Title Guaranty of Hawaii. The Uahului declaration has not been introduced as evidence in the ejection case and it was not clear if Hepa was aware of the document’s existence. Attorneys for Coco Palms said they had never seen the report.
Uahinui has appeared as an expert witness on title history issues on numerous occasions in a variety of forums. They include, among other venues, the Hawaii County Council, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court.
Mau-Espirito and Hepa have repeatedly cited their alleged lineal descent from Kapule as a key factor in support of their occupation of Coco Palms. The Uahinui declaration appears to show that after the supreme court ruling in 1883 took effect, the Coco Palms land was next conveyed by Kaae to W.C. Parke on Jan. 20, 1902.
On the same date, Parke transferred ownership to the Lihue Plantation Co., Ltd., which changed its name in 1968, but was then absorbed through merger into an entity that retained the Lihue Plantation Co. name and re-recorded the Coco Palms ownership in 1969.
In 1982, Lihue Plantation Co. conveyed title to the property to Island Holidays, Ltd., a Hawaii corporation. Immediately after that transfer, Island Holidays transferred ownership to Fort Associates Limited Partnership, which was chartered in Texas, which then immediately conveyed the land to Wailua Associates, a California limited partnership. Frequent transfers of property among various corporate entities are common in the real estate industry.
Wailua Associates held title until 2006, when Coco Palms Ventures, LLC, the immediate predecessor of the current Coco Palms owners, a Delaware limited liability company called PR II Coco Palms, LLC. The most recent change in title, in 2014, confirmed the ownership of PR II Coco Palms, LLC, the entity owned by Chad Waters and Tyler Greene, who brought the eviction action last year after Mau-Espirito, Hepa and others occupied a portion of the resort property and claimed ownership for themselves and said they intended to settle Coco Palms as a Native Hawaiian community dedicated to agriculture, cultural practices and historic preservation.
The ownership history assembled by Uahinui started with a review of a royal patent conveyance. In 1853, title went to Iosia Kaumualii, describing it as an area of “17 eka, 3 ruda, 287 perka.”
Kapule is one of the most prominent figures in Kauai island history. She is thought to have been born about 1798 in or near Waimea. Her father is thought to have been High Chief Haupu of Waimea, although historic sources apparently disagree on this point. Kuamualii is one of the best known and most colorful regents in Kauai history. He had a long-term hostile relationship with Kamehameha, first in the line of kings of Hawaii that bore his name.
According to historian Edward Joestin in his book “Kauai: The Separate Kingdom,” originally published in 1984, Kapule was the “favorite wife” of Kaumualii. Joestin described her as a “bright and active woman” who played one of the most influential roles in public life on Kauai in the first half of the 19th Century.
Hers is the stuff of legend on Kauai. As Joestin described her: “She had great influence with the people of Kauai, as demonstrated by the crowds who met her when she returned from attending Kaumualii’s funeral. Later in her life, she relocated from Waimea to Wailua, where her home became a well-known stopping point for travelers.
Mau-Espirito and Hepa have frequently argued their lineal descent from Kapule, which the newly surfaced title report does not address or dispute.
The report, however, makes clear that whatever interest Kapule’s descendants may have had in ownership of the Coco Palms property was terminated in 1883.
Wayne Nasser, the Honoulu lawyer representing Coco Palms, said he was familiar with the ownership history described by Uahinui, though he said he had not seen and was unaware of the existence of the declaration. Nasser said the Oahinui declaration has not been offered in evidence in either the current ejectment trial or in a related civil case in which Coco Palms intends to seek a ruling on its legal title — as opposed to the somewhat different legal possession rights at issue in the current proceeding.