LIHUE — Testimony continued Tuesday in the Coco Palms civil trial, with the defendants maintaining direct lineage to Hawaiian royalty and their right to occupy the land.
About 35 people watched the trial that was continued to Jan. 18.
Prior to the proceedings, Noa Mau-Espirito addressed District Court Judge Michael Soong with a complaint about an article written by Allan Parachini and published in The Garden Island newspaper Tuesday, stating a title search apparently proved he and co-defendant Kamu Hepa did not have a legal claim on the land.
He asked that Parachini be removed from the courtroom. The judge said Parachini had rights to be there and he could stay.
“This is ridiculing me for the ownership thing, bringing up the title search when I thought was made clear is not about ownership,” Mau-Espirito said. “If it’s about title search, why are they ridiculing me right now? I have the title search? I submitted the title search with errors the first day of trial.”
In his response, Soong assured Mau-Espirito that whatever’s in the paper or on social media will not be used in his determination about the case.
“My advice to you is, what I do is I don’t pay attention to what’s in the paper or social media,” Soong said, reminding Mau-Espirito of the First Amendment rights newspapers have.
Mau-Espirito asked Soong again, for clarification on what he is making a decision on.
“Are you making a decision on ownership or entitlement to possession, or both?”
“The issue is possession,” Soong said.
During cross-examination of Mau-Espirito, Hepa asked when he began taking on the responsibility of engaging in Hawaiian cultural practices and other things relevant and pertinent to who they are as a people.
Wayne Nasser, attorney for the plaintiffs, objected due to characterization.
Soong denied the objection.
Mau-Espirito said he was born into the culture and he was enrolled in Hawaiian immersion at 4 years old, based on his family’s history. While in school, he said they participated in chants, learning the legends and the moon cycles, farming and fishing with the moon cycle.
Hepa asked Mau-Espirito to further explain his experiences growing up, which Nasser objected to, because he said these experiences didn’t have anything to do with rights. Soong disagreed. He said Hepa was trying to establish background on native tenant rights.
“Their right to enter property in that measure to do certain things, but they’re not possessory rights,” Nasser argued.
“That may be,” Soong said, “but their defense is they’re on the property asserting native rights, so I’m going to allow the testimony.”
During Hepa’s cross-examination, Mau-Espirito described continual threats by employees of Tyler Greene. He said they have been firing shots and coming through the property.
He testified they called the police because of the harassment, and the police informed him they couldn’t help with the Coco Palms case, but they could help with the harassment.
Mau-Espirito testified he feared for his life.
After an instance in which the police were called, Mau-Espirito testified they were issued a letter stating to vacate the property within 48 hours. He said he took his own letter to Greene bearing maps, with information stating they were using the land for religious and cultural purposes.
At that time, Mau-Espirito said Greene asked him if they would leave. Mau-Espirito testified that he responded by asking Greene to give them a chance to go through the court system.
“You claim to be the crown alii of Wailua, is that what your claiming?” Nasser asked. “The claim is not from the Kingdom of Hawaii, but from this fellow from the Hawaiian Kingdom judiciary, but it’s not a pre-1893 award. It was sort of a grant that happened recently. Is that correct?”
Mau-Espirito said he has a certificate of award.
Once Mau-Espirito was finished with his testimony, Soong asked if they had any witnesses. Mau-Espirito called two witnesses, but they were barred from testifying. Nasser objected to the testimony stating that this is not expert witness testimony and it would be in line of opinion testimony and they didn’t have time to prepare for it.
Tyler Greene and Chad Waters, owners of Coco Palms Hui, have been trying to restore Coco Palms since 2012. The resort closed in 1992 after it was damaged by Hurricane Iniki.
By spring 2018 crews were expected to start Phase II, the renovation and reconstruction of Coco Palms.
The $175 million project would have 350 rooms, 12,000 square feet of retail space, three restaurants, leisure areas and a four-acre cultural center.
Hepa, Mau-Espirito, with others, moved onto the property over a year ago, and claim it belongs to them. They hope to preserve and restore the land, making it into a cultural and religious center for the Hawaiian people.