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Judge rejects motions to halt Kawaiahao suit


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POSTED: Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A circuit judge has denied motions to dismiss a lawsuit against the state and Kawaiahao Church, leaving the construction of a $17.5 million multipurpose center in limbo.

Judge Karl Sakamoto's decision yesterday backs the July suit filed by Abigail Kawananakoa, who alleged that the church and state invaded the grave of her ancestors, the family of Queen Kapiolani. Construction of the center was halted in March after 69 sets of human remains, or iwi, were unearthed.

Kawananakoa's attorney, George Van Buren, said the judge's decision proves that the case is a matter of public trust, even if the church is privately owned. He said it also proves that the church is not exempt from Hawaii's burial laws because it is an actively maintained cemetery, as argued by Crystal Rose, Kawaiahao's attorney, in a court filing in August.

Rose did not return calls for comment yesterday.

“;While Kawaiahao Church is disappointed that the judge did not grant our motion to dismiss, we remain hopeful that when all is said and done, we will be able to continue construction on our new and much-needed facility,”; said Frank Pestana, chairman of the church's board of trustees. “;The multipurpose center is critical to Kawaiahao Church and our ability to fulfill the church's mission.”;

No trial date has been set by Sakamoto yet.

Pestana said the church is prepared to go to trial and confident it would prevail. But he added that church officials wished they could have met personally with Kawananakoa to address her concerns instead of battling them in court.

“;We would still welcome that opportunity,”; Pestana said.

Van Buren, however, said in court documents that the state and church tried to circumvent the Oahu Island Burial Council when at least 69 sets of iwi had been discovered.

“;We intend to engage in mediation with the church and the state, and, given the judge's decision today, I think a good framework has been put in place,”; said Van Buren. “;We certainly expect the church and state to honor their obligations under the law.”;