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Friday, June 9, 2000

seek to sue state
over land disputes

Thousands of claimants never
got to put their cases before a
Hawaiian home lands review
panel before it dissolved

By Pat Omandam


In 1971, 18-year-old Leona Kalima of Kaimuki wanted to apply for a residential homestead lot in Waimea, Kauai, but was turned away by the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands because she was adopted and couldn't readily prove she was more than 50 percent Hawaiian.

It took more than 20 years for Kalima to obtain her once-confidential adoption records that showed she qualified for a homestead. But by then, her dreams of living in Waimea had faded to frustration.

Seeking redress, Kalima filed a claim with a state-sponsored panel in 1991 that set out to review 2,752 claims of mismanagement of the homestead process. Her case, however, was among half of those never completed as the state allowed the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust Individual Claims Review Panel to dissolve last December.

Kalima, 47, and two others are asking Circuit Judge Victoria Marks today to certify a class-action lawsuit and allow about 2,700 claimants the right to jointly sue the state.

They contend that the state Legislature and state government in recent years have failed to pay some $17 million in damages awarded by the claims review panel. Also, they did not allow the panel to finish reviewing all the claims filed before the panel was disbanded.

"All of us in this class action did everything we were supposed to do -- we filed our claim and expected a ruling on our claim," said Kalima, who works at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. "Instead, the state now says that we don't even have the right to be in court. It is a travesty of justice."

The claims review process was set up to allow Hawaiian beneficiaries to resolve breach of trust claims for out-of-pocket losses caused by state workers who administrated the Hawaiian Home Lands program from statehood until June 30, 1988.

Thomas R. Grande, attorney for the group, said the state in 1991 allowed Hawaiian claimants the right to sue the state if they went through the claims review process. But of the 2,752 claims, only two have had any legislative action taken and neither resulted in any compensation or remedy, he said.

Grande and co-counsel Carl Varady are expected to argue in court today that the state created a statutory process for these claims but abandoned it once they saw how much the panel awards would cost.

An attempt by the state in 1998 to resolve the issue through a working group failed after a Circuit Court judge ruled the composition of the group heavily favored the state.

The state contends that the panel should not have reviewed pure waiting list claims by Hawaiian beneficiaries and has refused to pay any claims until the issue is resolved.

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