$28 million awarded to Department of Hawaiian Homelands after state denies funding

Published: Nov. 28, 2015 at 4:44 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2015 at 1:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After an eight day trial which concluded in July, First Circuit Court Judge Jeannette Castagnetti has ruled that the State violated its constitutional duty by its continuing failure to provide adequate funding to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL).

For the last three years, the legislature has provided $9.6 million to the department. Friday's court's ruling will require that the legislature appropriate at least $28 million to the department for this coming fiscal year.

In fiscal year 2009, the legislature provided DHHL with less than $900,000 in general funds for its administrative and operating budget. For the next four fiscal years, the legislature appropriated no general funds to DHHL. Funding was only restored after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that "the State has failed, by any reasonable measure to provide sufficient funds to DHHL."

In a 40-page decision issued late Friday afternoon, the court concluded, "the legislature has failed to appropriate sufficient sums to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for its administrative and operating budget in violation of its constitutional duty to do so. This failure includes every fiscal year since at least 1992." In her ruling Judge Castagnetti noted that the "DHHL suffers from a lack of funding and staffing, which adversely affects beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust."

Moses Haia, the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation applauded the decision. "This has been a long time coming. We are thankful that the Court has provided the State and the DHHL with a roadmap for making good on the State's constitutional mandate and on both the State's and the DHHL's trust duties under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act. We trust this ruling will ultimately result in a significant increase in the number of beneficiaries living on Hawaiian Home Lands."

In her ruling, Judge Castagnetti also left no doubt about whom the Hawaiian Homes Commission and DHHL owe a duty of loyalty to. ""Insofar as the years of underfunding by the State continued to place DHHL in the intolerable position of having to use the Department's own funds to pay for its administrative and operating expenses, it was beyond the bounds of reasonable judgment for the DHHL Defendants to not take action, to not file suit against the State and to oppose Plaintiffs in this case." She concluded that the Hawaiian Homes Commission has a "duty of loyalty to the beneficiaries of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust – not the governor or the Department of Budget and Finance."

Six native Hawaiians: Richard Nelson III, Kelii Ioane, Sherilyn Adams, Kaliko Chun, James Akiona and Charles Aipia, filed this lawsuit in 2007. Akiona and Aipia have since died.

According to Kaliko Chun, "This suit was filed on behalf of all native Hawaiians; to make the State live up to its constitutional obligation; to get DHHL the money it needs; to get Hawaiians off the waitlist and back on the land; and to get DHHL to act like a trustee."

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