OHA faces bias lawsuit
Funds for the agency generated by ceded lands are disputed
Another legal challenge to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was filed yesterday in federal court by six Hawaii residents who contend state funding for the agency discriminates against non-Hawaiians.
The six contend that paying OHA a part of the revenues from ceded lands once held by the Hawaiian monarchy violates the state's trust obligations to all Hawaii residents.
The six non-Hawaiian residents are represented by H. William Burgess, the attorney who filed other challenges to OHA in the past.
It asks for a court order to halt state payments from ceded-land revenues to OHA and a halt to OHA spending that money to support the Akaka Bill pending in Congress. It also suggests that the pending settlement before the state Legislature to resolve past disputed claims by OHA to ceded-land revenues would also violate the rights of non-native Hawaiians.
Burgess said the suit was filed in the wake of an earlier taxpayer lawsuit filed by Earl Arakaki and others against OHA, but that challenge was rejected in 2006 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court, however, sent the case back to lower courts to resolve in view of its earlier decision that rejected a taxpayers' challenge in an Ohio case.
The case was eventually sent back to the federal courts here to resolve, but Burgess said U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway declined to dismiss the case and suggested that he could file a new suit.
The result is yesterday's challenge, he said.
The suit is against state and OHA officials.
Attorney General Mark Bennett said he had not seen the complaint, but said if it makes "the same allegations or similar allegations to the previous litigation, we will vigorously defend it in the same way we vigorously defended the previous litigation."
OHA Administrator Clyde Namuo said OHA "will reserve comment until legal counsel has had an opportunity to review the complaint."
Yesterday's six plaintiffs include Arakaki and four others who filed the earlier suit.
Burgess said the new suit does not challenge state general fund money going to OHA, but challenges the state paying OHA revenues from the ceded lands. It maintains the payments violate the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against the plaintiffs and others who do not have Hawaiian blood.
The suit cites a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in another case last year in which the court said ceded lands are for the benefit of all of Hawaii's people, "not simply native Hawaiians."
No date was set for hearings on the suit's request for a restraining order and an injunction to halt the payments to OHA.