After U.S. District Judge David Ezra ruled yesterday, Kamehameha Schools trustees Diane Plotts, second from left, J. Douglas Ing and Robert Kihune talked with reporters. Kamehameha Schools President Michael Chun stood in the background.

Judge approves
admission deal

Ezra lauds the honesty of both
sides in the Kamehameha dispute

Calling it a "gut-wrenching case," a federal judge approved a legal settlement that will allow a non-Hawaiian seventh-grader to attend the Kamehameha Schools through graduation.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra accepted yesterday the deal in which 12-year-old Brayden Mohica-Cummings agreed to drop his suit challenging the Kamehameha's century-old admission policy.

"This has obviously been a very difficult and gut-wrenching case," Ezra said. "Honest mistakes were made in a fashion that disadvantaged this young man with respect to his education. There was no lying and cheating here."

Brayden, who is not of Hawaiian ancestry, sued the estate earlier this year, alleging that its Hawaiian-preference admission policy violated federal anti-discrimination laws.

In August, Ezra issued an injunction ordering the school to admit Brayden while his suit was being decided. Ezra did not rule on the merits of the case, but said the school waited too long to rescind Brayden's acceptance after learning he was not of Hawaiian ancestry.

Outside federal court, Richard Kinney gave a thumbs-down to the judge's decision.

The estate previously admitted Brayden to its Kapalama Heights campus after his mother, Kalena Santos, whose adopted father was native Hawaiian, said her son was Hawaiian. But the offer was taken back after Santos was unable to document her son's Hawaiian ancestry.

The Kamehameha Schools, founded under the 1884 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, is a $6 billion, nonprofit charitable trust that educates 4,800 children of native Hawaiian ancestry each year.

Ezra said Santos did not "knowingly" lie on her son's application. Had she done so, Ezra said, he would not have issued the injunction ordering the school to take back Brayden.

Ezra said the settlement is in the best interest of the boy and the estate. Had the case not been settled, the appellate courts would have extended his injunction and kept Brayden at the school until the case was decided, Ezra said.

Santos, who attended yesterday's hearing with attorneys John Goemans and Eric Grant, said the settlement puts her family members' minds at ease.

She said outside the courtroom that her son has adjusted well to life at Kamehameha, although he initially was greeted with "second glances" and comments along the lines of "There's that boy."

Santos added that she is glad Ezra "set the record straight" that there was no dishonesty in her son's application.

"I didn't lie. I didn't misrepresent myself. I didn't cheat," said Santos, who was heckled as she left the federal courthouse. "To have heard people attacking me because I was adopted, that was really hard."

Kamehameha trustee Douglas Ing said the decision to settle was difficult for the Board of Trustees. But he said the settlement will allow the estate to move forward in defense of its admission policy, which is the subject of a separate lawsuit by an unnamed non-Hawaiian student whose application was rejected by the school.

U.S. District Judge Alan Kay dismissed that lawsuit last month, a ruling the trust says will give them a strong chance of upholding their admission policy on appeal.

Grant and Goemans, who also represent the plaintiff in that case, said they plan to appeal Kay's decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We agonized a lot over the decision, and we know that we have hurt members of the community and we apologize over that," said Ing, who attended yesterday's hearing with acting trust Chief Executive Colleen Wong, school Headmaster Michael Chun and trustees Diane Plotts and Robert Kihune. "However, we needed to make a decision that was in the best interest of the Kamehameha Schools, and we feel we made that decision, especially after hearing Judge Ezra's comments today."

During the hearing, Ezra said Santos' adoption by a Hawaiian family might qualify her and her son as Hawaiians. Ezra cited a 40-year-old state Supreme Court case that granted adopted or "hanaied" children the same ancestral rights as children that are born into the family.

That decision was based on the Supreme Court's interpretation of ancient Hawaiian law, which was the law of the land when Princess Pauahi wrote her will, Ezra said.

"You have a legitimate question as to whether or not the boy in this case, for the purpose of her will, is Hawaiian," said Ezra.

Some Hawaiian activists took issue with Ezra's interpretation.

Wayne Panoke, vice president of the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, which organized rallies protesting suits against the Kamehameha Schools, said a child that is hanaied by a family did not inherit the family's genealogical lines under Hawaiian monarchy laws.

Vicky Holt-Takamine, 'Ilio'ulaokalani's president, cited the example of Pauahi and Queen Liliuokalani, who were hanaied to each other's families. Liliuokalani traced her lineage to King Kalakaua, while Pauahi was of the Kamehameha line, but neither claimed the genealogy of the other, Holt-Takamine said.

"You don't inherit the genealogy; you don't inherit the rank or privileges," Holt-Takamine said.

Ezra noted that Brayden has attended Kamehameha without incident, and he credited the faculty and the Kamehameha ohana.

Ezra said that when he issued his injunction last August, someone suggested he order armed guards to accompany Brayden, but he refused to request protection because doing so would unnecessarily embarrass the schools.

But Ezra also warned some people from acting out against Brayden, saying such actions would violate federal law.

"It's a hate crime to engage in violence against a Hawaiian because he is Hawaiian. It's a hate crime to engage in violence against a Caucasian because he is a Caucasian," Ezra said.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --