Bitter custody battle over 11-year-old exposes flaws in child welfare system, critics say

Updated: Jan. 8, 2020 at 8:09 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A bitter custody battle over an 11-year-old Big Island girl that’s being fought in three different courtrooms across the state is exposing flaws in the state’s child welfare system, critics said.

In a recent court ruling, Kauai Family Court Judge Joseph Moss found that the girl’s father William Keahiolalo and his attorney, former Kauai Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri, misled the court to get a temporary restraining order against the mom, which resulted in his getting custody of the girl.

“This court finds it incredulous and unbelievable that William Keahiolalo, who had stipulated that he would have no visitation with (his daughter) and had no visitation for eight years, could obtain custody with no understanding with the way he obtained custody and with no documents that purport to give him custody,” Moss wrote.

The girl was taken from her mother, Hannah David, on Dec. 20 by Big Island police and placed in the custody of her father. That was after her mom was arrested for attacking Keahiolalo at his workplace on Kauai in November.

The attack was videotaped and was posted on Keahiolalo’s Facebook page. The video shows David using vulgar language and striking the dad -- who defends himself and takes David to the ground in front of their daughter.

The TRO also barred David from contacting the daughter, who has lived with David all her life.

Child Protective Services workers helped place the girl with her father after they determined that his home was safe.

But in his finding of fact dissolving the TRO, Moss -- the Kauai judge -- said Keahiolalo failed to disclose that he gave up all custody and visitation rights in 2012.

“The court finds that William Keahiolalo was not candid with the court,” Moss wrote.

The Kauai judge’s ruling comes as a federal judge on Tuesday blasted the state for the way it handled the custody case and ordered visitation for the mother.

U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright also questioned why CPS officials did not check the court record showing that Keahiolalo had given up his custodial and visitation rights.

In its court papers, state Deputy Attorney Caron Inagaki said Big Island Police -- not CPS -- was responsible for removing the girl.

She also said that the federal court had no jurisdiction in the case -- which Seabright rejected and threatened the attorney with sanctions if she continued to argue that point.

“To say that child welfare was not involved, that’s like crazy talk,” Seabright added.

State Rep. John Mizuno, a longtime critic of the state’s Child Protective System, said the case underscores the need to reform Hawaii’s child welfare system.

He says CPS workers are understaffed, undertrained and overmatched when attorneys and parties try to game the system.

“How they were able to pull this off is beyond words. It’s shocking,” said Mizuno, (D) Kalihi Valley.

A third court case in a Family Court in Waimea will determine whether the girl will be placed in foster care or returned to her mother. A hearing was held today and a further hearing is scheduled for Friday.

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