When District Court Judge Edmund Acoba takes the bench this morning, it will not be in his normal capacity as the judicial officer for Family Court in Kauai County.
Court insiders say Acoba is perplexed about exactly what to make of it, a fate shared by Judge Michael Soong, who presided over the recent trial that ordered occupiers of the former Coco Palms resort in Wailua. Soong ordered them evicted.
On Thursday morning, a multi-agency force of dozens of law enforcement officers — most from the Hawaii Department of Public Safety, state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) and the Kauai Police Department —staged a raid that evicted them.
Now, the dispute shifts back to court in a hearing calendared for 9 a.m. Acoba will be presiding in the latest installment of a protracted court battle over who may — and may not — occupy Coco Palms Today’s proceeding will continue the saga of a case that has, for the last several months, proceeded in what amounts to two parallel judicial universes.
Specifically, Acoba will consider a petition of the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office to strike from the record a document filed Jan. 26 that appears to accuse Soong, a colleague of Acoba’s, with contempt of court and “perverting the course of justice.” Soong handled the case through a trial that resulted in the order earlier this month evicting the occupiers from the Coco Palms property.
One perspective — that of state and county government — is that Soong issued a legal ruling based on clear Hawaii state law that found the occupiers have no legal right to be present at the ruins of the former hotel. From that perspective, the document accusing Soong is from a fictional court that exists only in the mythology of the Hawaiian separatist movement.
The other perspective is that the District Court lacks both authority and jurisdiction over the matter because the Coco Palms occupiers are there pursuant to title claims that derive from so-called “royal patents,” that assign ownership based on historical Hawaiian lineage. The occupiers, who have acted as their own attorneys thus far, contend that they are not subject to District Court authority. Rather, they say, they are subject to law of the Hawaiian Kingdom. It is not clear if Charles Hepa and Noa Mau Espirito will have lawyers present today or continue as their own attorneys.
There is a dispute over whether records of the Hawaiian Kingdom Supreme Court in 1883 found that descendants of legendary Kauai resident Deborah Kapule had any ownership rights after that year. But the defendants in the eviction action, Hepa and Mau Espirito, claim ownership, nonetheless.
On Thursday, Mau Espirito said he expects a judge of the Court of the Sovereign to be on hand at the courthouse today. That may prompt a new controversy over whether this person is really a judge. The Jan. 26 document identifies Moses Enoka Heanu as the chief justice of the Court of the Sovereign. It was not clear from what Mau Espirito said whether that person plans to be in court today.
Court administration sources said the document in question, which bears stamps of “THE HAWAIIAN JUDICIARY Court of the Sovereign,” was received in the Kauai courthouse, which duly entered a genuine filed stamp on it without question, even though the court that ostensibly issued it is, from a legal perspective, fictitious.
The filing — 36 pages long — consists mostly of documents detailing the alleged crimes involved in the 1893 takeover, depicting the filing as an “order to arrest grand jury indictment” and “writ of covenant notice to the bench.” They are like those found on many Hawaiian sovereignty websites.
On Thursday, Mau Espirito said the filing constitutes dismissal of the ejectment case in which Soong ordered him, Hepa and several dozen followers off the Coco Palms property. Both men said Soong is subject to “indictment” and that the entire case against them has been rendered void.
This is not the first time something like this has occurred, these court administration sources said, because local court clerical employees and judges understand that many on Kauai, and elsewhere in the islands, sincerely and summarily reject the legitimacy of the United States and state governments based on the circumstances surrounding the 1893 takeover of Hawaii by the U.S. In other words, courts in accord with federal and Hawaii state law have no authority.
“We respect people’s views of the court system,” even if they don’t believe it has any authority, said one court administrator. That is the cultural divide that has pervaded this case from the day the occupiers first entered the Coco Palms property.
On the one hand, the official Kauai government has no choice but to operate under applicable state and federal law. On the other hand, Native Hawaiian rights activists challenge that authority and often refuse to comply with its orders.
During a trial spread over more than three weeks, Soong repeatedly reminded Hepa and Mau Espirito that he was powerless to rule based on anything but Hawaii state law.
When Soong was told of the filing, “he sort of rolled his eyes,” said a court employee familiar with Soong’s reaction.
The court, however, handled the filing consistent with what court administrators said is a standard, if de facto, procedure. If such a filing accuses a judge of misconduct, the court notifies the Attorney General’s Office, which is the legal representative of all Hawaii court personnel. There, Deputy Atty. Gen. Robyn Chun decided to file what is called a “motion to strike.” That’s an official legal proceeding challenging whether a document filed in court has any legal reason to be there or whether it should be officially ignored.
Acoba’s reaction, these court sources said, was similar to Soong’s. But since the motion to strike is considered to have been filed and — for the moment, anyway — is in the court record, and Soong can’t preside over a hearing that seeks to find that he, himself, acted illegally, it will fall to Acoba to hear the matter.
It wasn’t clear if Hepa and Mau Espirito will demand that a Hawaiian language interpreter be present — as they did during the trial. If they do, today’s proceeding may result in a decision by Acoba to continue the case.
If they don’t, it will fall to Acoba to take over the process of sorting all of this out.