Thursday, May 10, 2001

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Hawaiian woman
files suit against
OHA trustee Akana

She claims her arrest
at an OHA meeting
denied her free speech

By Pat Omandam

A 72-year-old Hawaiian woman who was arrested at an Office of Hawaiian Affairs meeting in 1999 has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking monetary and punitive damages.

Johanna C. Lawrence, who regularly attends OHA meetings with other kupuna, sued trustee Rowena Akana and three deputy sheriffs yesterday for her Sept. 9, 1999, arrest following an OHA board meeting.

Lawrence claims the actions by then-board Chairwoman Akana, as well as the other defendants, amounted to false imprisonment, infringement of the right to free speech and the right to petition, infliction of emotional distress and willful, reckless conduct.

At the time, Akana had ordered Lawrence removed from the OHA boardroom because she was disruptive at a meeting. Lawrence wanted to speak her mind during the "community concerns" portion of the agenda but instead got into an argument with Akana after she asked Lawrence not use the time to vilify trustees but to speak on agenda issues.

When sheriff's deputies moved to escort Lawrence out of the boardroom, other Hawaiians, including one trustee, came to her defense.

The meeting was then adjourned, but Lawrence was arrested after she went up to the trustees' 12th-floor offices.

A few days later, Akana asked the city prosecutor's office to dismiss the charges against Lawrence because it was never her intention to get her arrested. Akana said it was in the best interest of OHA not to pursue the matter since Lawrence is an OHA beneficiary.

Lawrence, through her attorney Christopher D. Ferrara, is seeking special and general damages, as well as punitive damages against Akana.

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