LIHUE — A Fifth Circuit judge on Thursday said he intends to allow attorneys to move forward with a lawsuit contesting the sale of several land parcels on Mark Zuckerberg’s North Shore estate, although that may change if the land changes hands next month.
“I’m gonna keep the case,” Judge Randal Valenciano said during a hearing in which he was slated to determine the next step in a civil claim brought by two people with partial ancestral claims to four small “kuleana” land plots surrounded by the 700 acres purchased by the Facebook CEO in 2014.
Zuckerberg’s attempt to purchase the kuleana parcels sparked a controversial and heated land dispute that has grown no less contentious over the past few years.
A public auction in March was supposed to partition the land and “quiet” the titles, placing the pieces of property under a single owner. But instead of providing a resolution, the auction spawned another lawsuit and further legal claims against the man who purchased three of the four kuleana parcels, Carlos Andrade, a retired history professor who lived on one of the plots years ago and initiated the quiet title lawsuit in 2016.
The day after the auction, two of Andrade’s distant cousins — Wayne Rapozo, a London-based attorney with an ancestral claim to the land who helped to coordinate and finance the legal battle opposing the land partition, and Shannon Buckner, who also has a small share in the kuleana — filed a lawsuit, alleging Andrade violated court procedure by colluding with a Zuckerberg-controlled company during the quiet title legal proceedings.
Thursday’s hearing featured motions filed by attorneys on both sides, essentially presenting the court with three options. Valenciano could have thrown the case out entirely or deferred to another judge by consolidating the case with a 2016 lawsuit that forced the partition sale of the kuleana parcels at auction two months ago.
The lawsuit claims that the hundreds of family members with shares in the property are legally entitled to a share of the rent Andrade is purported to have collected over the course of several decades, and alleges that Andrade essentially used the ill-gotten proceeds to bid against a coalition of the very people he owed the money to.
“We think that’s an abuse of practice,” said Dan Hempey, a Lihue attorney who brought the suit on behalf of Buckner and Rapozo.
Andrade’s lawyer, Harvey Cohen, argued that similar claims have already been submitted and dismissed in the quiet-title lawsuit on more than one occasion, pointing to a ruling by Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe only two weeks ago.
“This is an inappropriate bite at the apple,” Cohen said at the hearing, arguing that it would be counterintuitive to “muddy the waters” with the new lawsuit, which he described as being based on “tortured readings” of previous court decisions.
Valenciano ultimately ruled to keep the lawsuit separate and appears ready to proceed with litigation, at least for the time being. The fate of the case hinges on what happens on June 4, when the sale of the land parcels is finalized at a court hearing to confirm the auction results.
Valenciano said he will delay his decision until after the confirmation hearing, when bidding on the kuleana parcels is reopened to anyone who shows up with an offer at least 5% higher than the winning bid at auction.
“The dynamics could change,” he said.