Alan Murakami


An unofficial defender
of public’s rights

Fifth of ten parts

Few people in Hawaii know as much about land and water issues as Alan Murakami, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. for 20 years and director of litigation there for the past 17.

Ten who made a difference
Some fought controversial battles. Others made headlines or worked quietly behind the scenes. But all made an impact on Hawaii in 2003 and are thus recognized as the Star-Bulletin's 10 who made a difference.

That knowledge enabled Murakami to help obtain a Big Island court ruling in September blocking construction of the multimillion-dollar Hokulia urban residential project on Kona agricultural land.

Also in September, Murakami helped obtain an Oahu court ruling delaying a 30-year lease that would lock in the annual diversion of billions of gallons of East Maui stream water by a subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin for sugar cane irrigation.

Although the diversion has been done since 1878, current law requires an environmental assessment before the practice is extended, to determine the effect of the diversion on taro farmers, the ruling said.

In simple terms, the rulings require corporations to follow the law.

In the Hokulia case, Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra noted several instances where the developer ignored the advice of its own attorneys to obtain urban designation for the project land. In the East Maui case, the law says that water is part of the "public trust," meaning the water is owned by the general public, which must be considered when a corporation wants exclusive use of it.

Other attorneys who worked with Murakami to obtain these rulings praised his work.

Kona attorney Robert Kim said Murakami has a unique combination of knowledge about land use and native Hawaiian rights. It is noteworthy that Murakami uses the knowledge to serve the underdog when he could "cash in" and work for a major corporation, Kim said.

"Alan's life has been basically in the public interest," Kim said.

Attorney Isaac Hall, who worked with Murakami on the Maui case, agreed. "He's available to people whose rights have been deprived for so long," Hall said.

Water rights issues, including the desire of people to have water to grow taro, have been "festering" for decades, Hall said.

Murakami has worked on water rights in the Legislature as well as in the courts, Hall said.

"He's a remarkable resource. He understand water rights in Hawaii probably better than anybody."


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