Coco Palms dispute heats up

  • Bethany Freudenthal / The Garden Island

    Kamu Hepa testifies to the court in Hawaiian during a land dispute civil trial Friday.

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.

  1. larry December 16, 2017 3:04 am Reply

    if that place opens back up there will be a new meaning to congestion on the roads.
    A real shame this restoration is all in the name of instant gratification and greed

  2. Amused December 16, 2017 3:22 am Reply

    What a waste of taxpayer money as Noa and Kamu play out their charade. They haven’t even educated themselves on the process and think they should get land just because they say so? What a joke.

    1. Susan December 31, 2017 6:31 pm Reply

      Amused. I cannot understand why you think it is a joke that Hawaiians want their land!

      These islands are not the United States! The USA has not documents by which they annexed the Hawaiian Kingdom. That fact was explained to President Clinton by the Department of Justice in 1988 and spurred the apology in 1993 now known as Pu lic Law 103-150.

      This court case is not a joke! No one else is “amused”

  3. Sunrise_blue December 16, 2017 6:11 am Reply

    Do they know that the hotel prior to them showing up was already situated on USA/Hawaiian lands? If it belongs to the Hawaiians, then why was there a hotel on it prior to that date? Where’s their income statement? Hawaiian people. USA land, USA rules. Why is there a dispute over land ownership?

    1. Susan December 31, 2017 6:51 pm Reply

      Sunrise Blue, I understand how people would be confused. Up until 1993 everyone thought the Hawaiian Islands were part of the USA. Now we know that the Hawaiian Kingdom still exists and the USA and their agents the state of Hawai’i et al is just an occupying government with no land base.

      Your question was about the hotel being built on USA land. At the tome of its demise from hurricane Iniki in 1992, no one was aware of the situation.

      Today the facts are known and although many are still not aware, word is spreading rapidly around the globe. This past spring the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague made a decision on Philippines vs China. On page 7 of their decision there,is a reference to the existence of the Hawaiian KIngdom still existing as an independent nation-state (country) that was internationally recognized on November 28, 1843.

      It is understandable that Hawaiians want their land back. Afterall it was given in allodial title during the Great Mahele in 1846.

      It will take some time but all of us will have to adjust to these indisputable facts.

  4. Sunrise_blue December 16, 2017 6:20 am Reply

    Can they even prove that the Hawaiian Kingdom was a monarchy? 1874 first year of King Kalakaua reign as King. On Kaua’i. Hawaiian lands for the Hawaiian people were for their own use and to live on.

  5. Pete Robinson December 16, 2017 7:10 am Reply

    Building 400 vacation rentals right on that land, next to the highway should be the focus. It’s not safe already, traffic is highly congested and just based on insurance reasons alone, the development of Coco Palms should be refused flat out. There have been so many accidents there and with all the fatalities and congestion, I’m surprised the planning department didn’t flat out deny any more building of TVR’s on the island. Many of the accidents are because of traffic congestion and the insurance companies are paying out through the nose because of poor planning. No to coco palms. Just stop the destruction of this paradise and leave it ALONE!

  6. Felicia Cowden December 16, 2017 11:38 am Reply

    Honored to be present at this full-day court session which is asking the question of our generation in Hawaii. The emerging generation has fluency in Olelo (Hawaii language) and the internet is shining a light on history that is being reviewed in a more transparent lens. For those willing to look and research, the evidence is everywhere that the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy was a crime that has yet to be corrected and the displacement and destruction continues on a culture that society pretends to respect. This court case was a collision of the two cultural perspectives literally and figuratively speaking different languages. The language of the monied court system was not natural to the young, pro-se defendants who honorably were speaking truth to power. Noa Man-Espirito made exhaustive effort to present Tyler Greene as an innocent buyer, who is a reflection of most “mainland” purchasers, even local purchases, that consider land a commodity. The defendants are representing the position of holding the responsibility of land and cultural stewardship. The affected lands are a profound cultural location, with centuries of sacred burial grounds. The court and the laws are designed to protect commerce. There would be no possibility of such a hotel/entertainment facility to be built on top of Arlington National Cemetery, which is an appropriate comparative. There is deep, implied racism in how our economic system thinks nothing of exploiting such a profound cultural site which seeks to continue and perpetuate. It was clear that the developer cannot separate the difference of true cultural practices and the exploited form as a commercial draw for a hotel. Judge Michael Soong was patient and respectful at allowing the defendants to learn courtroom protocol in their effort at defending themselves against expensive lawyers. The essence of this case is the essence of a century-old perpetuated injustice. For those who can’t see that, I invite deeper learning into the clear facts that have become available on the internet, particularly through the University of Hawaii Hawaiian Cultural Studies department. These young men grew up knowing these truths, whereas the courtroom is populated by a generation older that has been “inculcated” to a false lesson that exonerates the crimes of the past. The laws are designed by those inculcated to that false narrative. This case is not on an even playing field. The case continues 12/29/17 8:30 a.m. Friday.

  7. Pete Antonson December 16, 2017 12:20 pm Reply

    How can the Court not respect the Holder of the Magic Feather?

  8. Little Bird December 16, 2017 4:16 pm Reply

    Mau Hepa need to go away forever. They are a bigger scam than the democrats.

    1. Kainoa December 31, 2017 4:42 pm Reply

      An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting.

  9. harv December 16, 2017 8:43 pm Reply

    The headline should read “Self-righteous squatters looking for free stuff by playing the race card”

    1. Susan December 31, 2017 7:07 pm Reply

      Harvey, First of all Hawaiian is not a race, it is a nationality. 2nd the land belongs to his family since the reign of King Kamehameha III.

      A little respect fir the host culture is not too much ask. After all they have been very patient with the world for over 100 years! But now we know there was no annexation, no legal statehood vote and the USA never extinguished this country as required by international law. Fact us they couldn’t because there was never documentation by which they could have aquiref this country.

      It is way past time to stood treating Hawaiians as second class citizens! It is time for respect !

  10. Kainoa December 31, 2017 5:02 pm Reply

    i think if Hawaii was a part of America that maybe true. however the Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands continues to exist. the paper nation that the US annexed in 1898 was done with a US domestic law. the reason for this is that when annexation was requested by the Republic of Hawaii’s President, US congressional discussions show that overall the US cannot annex an unwilling people. how did they know kanaka were unwilling? there was a BIG ASS MONSTER PETITION that 90% of the Hawaiians signed against annexation. well trying to do it the right way didn’t work so they just made a domestic law look like an international treaty and conveniently as a 3rd party the Provisional Government wrote a simple note to (try to-many still valid) invalidate every treaty the Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands had with more than 20 world powers and over 100 consulates around the world in the interest of protection of our people. ck for irrefutable facts. that you are not aware of this is because the education system here and 90%+ of Hawaii’s history was written by people who were writing a narrative they wanted people to see. Hawaiians wrote our version in our language, but how many people in Washington DC could read olelo Hawaii? so as stuff gets translated, more info comes to light and the truth has been revealed. Hawaiian Kingdom exists. Our Queen only relinquished her job to another head of state, not to the overthrowers. Which means the LAND and SOVEREIGNTY of the People are preserved for us in our laws AND that all we need to do is resurrect our government….hows that for the new yr? #peacecookie

  11. Kainoa December 31, 2017 5:25 pm Reply

    can you prove we were NOT a monarchy?

  12. Susan December 31, 2017 6:55 pm Reply

    Pete Antonson, I find your comment very offensive!

  13. Ojibway native January 30, 2018 6:53 am Reply

    I keep hearing about the Hawaiian kingdom, but isn’t that referring to people of Polynesian blood not Menehune? So the kingdom descends from Polynesians who conquered this island not natives. Anyone of Polynesian descent has no more right to claim this land than someone of American descent. USA conquered through deception but it is still a conquered.

  14. lupe February 3, 2018 6:34 am Reply

    And the government leaders will sit by until every last Hawaiian is uprooted from the aina in their own homeland.

  15. Al Gonzales February 11, 2018 7:09 am Reply

    It’s kind of sad, really, that most Hawaiians don’t know their own history! Kaua’i became part of King Kamehameha’s “unification” of these Islands when the King of Kaua’i, Kaumuali’i surrendered it to Kamehameha!

    Now, Kaua’i belonged to Kamehameha! Even further down the road, Queen Ka’ahumanu took Kaumuali’i and his son as her husbands, making her their heir!

    When the Monarchy was overthrown, the Ceded lands were taken and became part of The Territory of Hawai’i!

    When Coco Palms was first built, Mr. Guslander leased the land from the State who shared the ownership of the ceded lands with the US!

    NOTE: when Kamehameha “unified” these Islands, ALL OF HAWAI’I belonged to him! This means the most of us are descendants of the “Defeated” people in Hawai’i! “Our land” was never taken because only Kamehameha and his descendants owned the land!

    How can we lose something that was never ours? We should realize that there are, basically 2 types of Hawaiians: Kamehameha Hawaiians and the “rest of us”, descendants of the DEFEATED!

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