Hawaiian men claim title to Coco Palms land

WAILUA — Two Hawaiian men at the center of a dispute to determine rightful ownership of 17 acres of Wailua property will be in court on Wednesday to hear the state’s response to their claim of kuleana land.

“This is a foolish time being wasted on everybody’s behalf. It’s like PTSD. It’s making all of us like that,” said Charles Hepa, who claims ownership of the Coco Palms property by right of Royal Hawaiian Patent. “For the 28th, I’m just excited upon whatever’s coming. We’re ready for this.”

The state filed the motion against Noa Mau-Espirito and Hepa, claiming the defendants have been trespassing since March 17. Mau-Espirito said he’s been living on the Wailua property since spring 2016.

If found guilty, the group will be forced to vacate the property.

The Wailua man, who claims to be a seventh-generation descendant of King Kaumualii, and a group of about 25 of his formerly homeless family members, continue to live on Coco Palms property.

Two things need to be proven Wednesday, Mau-Espirito said: The owners of Coco Palms Hui LLC need to show title and the judge needs to prove he has proper authority and jurisdiction in the mater.

“These guys had a chance to show their title, but Judge Soong said this is not the right court to do title. It’s civil court,” Mau-Espirito said. “Even if they somehow do come up with a proper title, it will already get transferred to civil court.”

Civil courts already ruled that there is no proper jurisdiction to determine title dispute in the Hawaiian Islands because of the royal patent and allodial title issues, he said.

Tyler Greene, co-owner of Coco Palms Hui, said the county recognizes Coco Palms Hui as the owners of the land. He previously told The Garden Island there were trespassers at Coco Palms and he was working with the county prosecutor’s office on the matter.

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 are expected to start Phase II, the renovation and reconstruction of Coco Palms.

The $175 million project will boast 350 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.

Last month, Soong denied a motion from the state which required the two men and their group to stay away from the property.

Soong cited ex parte to remove the defendants from Coco Palms property circumvents a civil process that would prove clear ownership of the property.

“Royal patents are an original source of title and are for the subsistence of the Hawaiian people,” Mau-Espirito said. “If the family is not on the land, under Hawaiian Kingdom law, another family can occupy it and take care of it. They just gotta have Hawaiian.”

The 25-year-old Wailua resident also wants the process to be over.

“Before we can even dispute title, who is you, your honor, for bringing up title issues?” he said. “If the judge doesn’t have discretion, court doesn’t have jurisdiction, how can the police out on the streets have discretion or jurisdiction?”

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