LIHUE — The Hawaii State Intermediate Court of Appeals on Wednesday issued an order preventing the transfer of four kuleana lots on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s North Shore estate that recently sold at a court-ordered auction.
By the time that order was handed down Wednesday morning, the land had already been transferred to Carlos Andrade, the retired history professor who paid about $2 million for the four small parcels last month.
The “quiet title” case brought by Andrade against his distant relatives to settle ownership of the contested kuleana has dragged on for nearly three years now, but the filing of court documents and land deeds last week by attorneys on both sides could indicate significant developments in the case.
“There’s a flurry of motions going back and forth,” Patrick Childs, the acting land commissioner in the case, said Friday.
During a court hearing Monday, Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe denied the request of two heirs to the kuleana fighting to prevent the sale of the land, who had asked that the land transfer be put on hold until a hearing this week.
Watanabe’s decision set attorneys on both sides in motion, with Andrade’s lawyer, Harvey Cohen, working to transfer the deeds to his client’s name, while Dan Hempey, a Lihue attorney representing two heirs to the kuleana opposing the land sale, scrambled to get an order from the appellate court preventing the transaction.
Andrade won the race, and the deed to the four kuleana now bears his name. But the timing of the Intermediate Court of Appeals’ decision to stop the final sale of the land is interesting and ironic. The ICA’s order was meant to stop Andrade from owning the property. Instead, it prevented the former owners from getting paid.
“In his rush to beat the stay order,” Andrade “also recorded the deeds in his favor having not first paid any of the defendants,” Hempey continued, adding that Andrade “probably should have issued checks” to the hundreds of former co-owners of the kuleana, “before he snagged the land for himself.”
Cohen could not be reached for comment on his client’s behalf.
The property was deeded to Andrade before the proceeds of the land sale were distributed to the hundreds of heirs according to their stake in the land. But when the ICA order came down putting a hold on the land sale, it also stopped Andrade from paying for the land he had already transferred.
So for the time being, the heirs have lost their land without being compensated for it, although that situation is temporary. The former kuleana shareholders could get paid following Tuesday’s court hearing if Watanabe rules to finalize the sale of the land.
Andrade’s interest in the kuleana dates back to an ancestor, Manuel Rapozo, who acquired the land in the late-19th century. Today, hundreds of his descendants — and innumerable Native Hawaiian rights activists — claim a stake in the land and say Andrade has no right to own the parcels.
Hempey represents two of Andrade’s distant relatives — 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. Rapozo is also the cousin of Hempey’s law partner, Craig De Costa.
According to court documents Hempey filed on Thursday, Andrade intentionally had the property deeds transferred to his name because he knew the appeals court would likely order him not to do so in the near future.
The land commissioner and an Andrade attorney “rushed to the Bureau of Conveyances to beat the stay order and recorded the deeds to the subject property,” Hempey wrote in a motion, asking the court to invalidate the property transfer and stop Andrade from deeding the property to another person or an LLC until after the appeals process is finalized.
Hempey previously represented Rapozo and Buckner in a separate lawsuit that claimed Andrade colluded with a Zuckerberg-controlled company during the years-long legal dispute and used Zuckerberg funds to finance his successful bid on the land. Andrade eventually bought all four parcels for a combined total of just over $2.1 million.
That lawsuit was dismissed last month by a judge who ruled that the issues it raised were “basically a duplication” of a dispute currently being argued in the quiet title case.
Rapozo and Buckner are continuing to contest the quiet title lawsuit, as court proceedings finalizing the partition sale of the land draw ever closer to an end. Watanabe could put an end to the whole case on July 23, at least as far as the circuit court is concerned, if she rules to finalize the land sale, finally making Andrade the sole owner of the land.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.