LIHUE — In a crowded courtroom Friday, proceedings continued in a civil case between a group of Native Hawaiians who say they rightfully own 17-acres of land in Wailua and a development company that wants to build a $175 million resort where Coco Palms once stood.
Defendant Noa Mau-Espirito took the stand and presented pages of evidence to prove his family rightfully owns the contested land and that he has the right to be there.
One piece of evidence Mau-Espirito presented was a County of Kauai owner parcel information document, which he told the court, shows two different owners of the property.
“How can this place have never had these records until I went and occupied my family’s property?” Mau-Espirito said.
The document, Mau-Espirito said, also shows illegal actions by the county.
“Look at the records of property value. They dropped it from $2.8 million to $7,600,” Mau-Espirito said.
The document, argued Wayne Nasser, attorney for the plaintiffs, was not self-authenticating. He said in order to be valid, it had to be certified, proving that the information within the document is correct.
Mau-Espirito objected, because the document he was presenting came directly from the county.
“How can this not be related to the matter if your judgment is based on ownership of this property? This is showing the legalities of the ownership of the property. For them to object me, they’ve got to prove ownership,” Mau-Espirito said.
District Judge Michael Soong sustained the objection, stating the document wasn’t authenticated, certified or relevant to the matter at hand.
“As I indicated to you, this court is not going to take evidence of title. If title is in question, title will have to be decided in circuit court,” Soong said.
Coco Palms Hui developer Chad Waters didn’t speak during the proceeding. His partner, Tyler Greene, was not present.
The two men 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. Crews were initially expected to start Phase II, the renovation and reconstruction of Coco Palms, in the spring of 2018. The project will boast 350 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.
This court, Soong said, is there to decide who has an interest in possessing the property. Once the ruling is made they’ll no longer be able to take evidence on the matter. The title issue will have to be tried in circuit court.
“How are you going to eject somebody without determining the title of ownership? It says right here, ownership must be determined,” Mau-Espirito said.
The defendants, Soong said, can appeal any decision the court makes, but maintained that the owner parcel information document would not be submitted as evidence.
About 25 people watched the proceedings, testy at times, which lasted about six hours total.
As Mau-Espirito presented his second piece of evidence, tax receipts and records of when he paid taxes on the property, two individuals watching the trial were told to leave the courtroom due to disrupting the proceedings.
“The right thing to do would be move it to the first circuit soon. Don’t be fair and unjust to the Kanaka. Kanaka Maoli,” said Punohu Kekaualua.
“This is not America,” said Debra Kekaualua as they were both escorted out of the courtroom by the bailiff.
During a short recess after the outburst, Bailiff Lou Jeal explained to the crowd that they were there as observers, not participants. There was continued disturbance between the Kekaualuas and Jeal, who attempted to physically remove the 70-year-old woman from the courtroom.
Soong continued the trial to Jan. 5.