Judge backs OHA
Five Native Hawaiians want funds spent only on people of at least half Hawaiian blood
A federal judge ruled that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs can continue to spend trust funds on programs that help native Hawaiians with less than 50 percent Native Hawaiian blood.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ruled Friday in favor of OHA and dismissed a lawsuit filed by five native Hawaiians in 2005.
The lawsuit argued that OHA breached the public land trust by paying for programs for all Hawaiians, regardless of their blood quantum.
The plaintiffs objected to OHA support for the Akaka Bill, legislation that would that would establish a federally recognized Native Hawaiian government, and Na Pua Noeau, a program for gifted and talented Native Hawaiian children.
They also asked the court to stop OHA support for the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a nonprofit that represents Native Hawaiians in legal disputes.
But Mollway ruled that OHA trustees have broad discretion and are "exercising their reasonable fiduciary judgment in determining how to further the purposes of the trust."
OHA Board of Trustees Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said the agency is pleased with the court's decision.
"Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are elected to do productive work on behalf of our beneficiaries," she said. "We remain committed to that objective."
Walter R. Schoettle, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said his clients were disappointed and would appeal the decision.
This is the second time Mollway has ruled on the case. Mollway dismissed the claim in August 2006, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit and sent the case back to Hawaii.
Mollway's 35-page decision presented different scenarios that showed how OHA funding may be complicated if the decision went in the plaintiffs' favor.
In a hypothetical situation, OHA may have a program that assists Hawaiians with medical birth expenses. But what if, Mollway asked, a mother with 25-percent native blood and a father with 75-percent native blood gave birth? The child would be 50-percent Native Hawaiian.
"But treatment during the pregnancy would benefit not only the native Hawaiian child, but also the Hawaiian mother," Mollway said. "Would plaintiffs object to the benefits flowing to the Hawaiian mother?"
Mollway said that the "logical result" of benefiting only Hawaiians with more than 50 percent blood would be "detrimental" to Native Hawaiians.
OHA, which was created by an amendment to the Hawaii Constitution in 1978, is financed in part by revenues from ceded lands that belonged to Hawaiian royalty.
Ceded lands refer to Hawaiian monarchy land that was transferred to the federal government when the United States annexed Hawaii in 1898. The land was turned over to the state after statehood in 1959.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.