Wednesday, April 28, 1999

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State still
hopes for OHA
money deal

Although the Hawaiian agency
has broken off negotiations,
lawmakers are working for settlement

By Pat Omandam


State lawmakers want to resolve the dispute over the public land trust, even if the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has decided to slam the door on negotiations.

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) and Rep. Paul T. Oshiro (D, Ewa Beach) said OHA's decision yesterday to cease negotiations with the state means Senate Bill 1635 SD 2,HD 2 - which could have been rewritten with a proposed settlement - still remains alive, even if some Hawaiians, as well as OHA want the measure killed.

Both chairmen of Hawaiian Affairs committees said the measure likely will be passed with language that calls for a joint committee to study the public land trust issue. That includes ceded land payments, an inventory of ceded lands and a temporary annual ceded land payment to OHA for the next two years.

Conferees meet again today to discuss the measure. Hanabusa said she believes "there's still issues in there we have to pass."

In an unexpected but swift move, the OHA board yesterday voted 5-3 to end talks with the state, forcing the Hawaii Supreme Court now to resolve the controversy over past-due revenues from ceded lands that stemmed from a 1996 court decision.

In that decision, Circuit Judge Daniel Heely ruled the state should pay OHA its share of revenue plus interest generated from four other areas of ceded lands. The state appealed the decision, which is now before the Hawaii high court.

The OHA board spent more than four hours yesterday in executive session discussing whether to end talks that have been going on since last December. At stake was the state's March 31 settlement offer to OHA of $251 million - but only if OHA would also agree never to sue the state again over public land trust claims and if it waived its current 20 percent share of revenue from ceded lands approved in 1990.

Opponents of the motion to end negotiations - Chairwoman Rowena Akana and trustees Hannah Springer and Clayton Hee - asked what OHA would have to lose if the matter stayed at the table with 48 hours left before tomorrow's legislative deadline.

Hee argued that OHA should push for a settlement. If none is reached, he said, at least the Hawaii Supreme Court will know OHA tried its best to get an agreement passed this session.

Also, Hee said the $251 million could do much to help Hawaiians now.

"If this vote passes, this office and all the people we serve, including non-Hawaiians like my father who is married to a Hawaiian, will rue the day that this office decided to turn tail and run," Hee said.

Nevertheless, a majority of trustees agreed OHA has waited long enough for the state to respond to its April 1 and April 16 settlement offers, the latest of which was for $304.6 million.

Trustee Mililani Trask, who led the effort to end talks, said instead of a counteroffer, the state sought to get OHA to also agree to waive its right to sue and its 20 percent revenue from ceded lands - something she will never support.

Trustee A. Frenchy DeSoto said what the state is asking in exchange for $251 million is too great a cost for Hawaiians to pay.

Meanwhile, state officials were surprised at yesterday's action. State chief negotiator Sam Callejo said the state had been in touch with OHA regarding the settlement proposals and believed there was progress made.

Negotiator Joe Blanco said if OHA was willing to talk about the other non-monetary issues, there would have been a better chance something could have been done in time for the Legislature to act.

OHA lines up
law firms for
Supreme Court case

By Pat Omandam


The law firm of former Gov. John Waihee was among those hired by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs yesterday to represent OHA in the Rice vs. Cayetano case now on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The OHA board yesterday unanimously hired several mainland and local law firms to represent it on an amicus brief to be filed in the case.

The brief allows OHA to argue along with the state against claims made by Big Island rancher Harold Rice that his constitutional rights are being violated because he can't vote in Hawaiians-only OHA elections.

Retained to represent OHA are:

Bullet Harry Sachse and Reid Petyon Chambers of the law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse & Endreson in Washington, D.C. Sachse has argued 10 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Chambers has represented the rights of tribes or Alaskan native interests. Estimated cost of work: $60,000.
Bullet Susan M. Williams of the law firm Williams, Janov & Cooney in Albuquerque, N.M. OHA says the firm, which provides tribal government and agencies with legal services, is one of the most influential tribal practices in the country. Cost: $30,000.
Bullet Robert Long Jr. of the law firm Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. The firm has an active practice and extensive experience in preparing and filing briefs in the Supreme Court. Cost: $30,000.
Bullet Jon Van Dyke, University of Hawaii law professor. Sachse recommended Van Dyke be retained as counsel because of his experience in constitutional law and background in OHA/native issues. Cost: $10,000.
Bullet Former Gov. John Waihee III, Sen. George Mitchell and Sen. Robert Dole of the law firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand in Honolulu.

The law firm and its attorneys will provide political and legislative representation for OHA at the federal level and in Congress. Cost is unknown.

OHA Ceded Lands Ruling

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