New OHA case called a repeat
The attorney general feels sure the lawsuit will be dismissed
A new lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs covers issues that have previously been decided in the agency's favor and should be dismissed by the court, Attorney General Mark Bennett said.
The federal lawsuit argues that state funding for the agency discriminates against non-Hawaiians. It was filed this week by six Hawaii residents.
"This lawsuit retreads old ground, makes the same allegations that previous lawsuits challenging programs for native Hawaiians have made," Bennett said yesterday at a news conference.
"I am confident that the results in this case will be the same as the results in previous cases. That is, the plaintiffs' claims being dismissed."
"Plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, filed by attorney H. William Burgess, include residents who have challenged OHA in the past. Burgess has also filed the previous lawsuits.
The latest lawsuit contends 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.
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.
Bennett said he believes the case is essentially the same as an earlier taxpayer lawsuit, known as the Arakaki case, that was rejected in 2006 by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was eventually sent back to the federal courts in Honolulu to resolve, but Burgess said U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway declined to dismiss the case and suggested he could file a new suit.
OHA said the Arakaki case cost the agency $409,491 in attorney fees. Clyde Namuo, OHA administrator, said the new case would likely cost in the "tens of thousands," depending on how long it takes to resolve.
Despite the time and cost, Bennett and OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said they were committed to defending against the lawsuit.
"Our goal is to prevail in this case," Apoliona said. "To do anything less in these times would be a disservice to native Hawaiians and would certainly be damaging to the future of Hawaii."