Facebook CEO 'reconsidering' lawsuits over Kauai land

Updated: Jan. 24, 2017 at 5:14 PM HST
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KILAUEA, KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he's reconsidering a series of lawsuits he's filed over land ownership on Kauai.

His statement comes following widespread criticism to the suits, which have been likened to the tactics Hawaii sugar barons used to take land from Native Hawaiians.

"Based on feedback from the local community, we are reconsidering the quiet title process and discussing how to move forward," Zuckerberg said, in a statement Tuesday. "We want to make sure we are following a process that protects the interests of property owners, respects the traditions of native Hawaiians, and preserves the environment."

He continued: "We love Kauai. We want to be good members of the community and preserve the land for generations to come."

Zuckerberg spent $100 million in 2014 on 700 acres of beachfront land on Kauai's North Shore to create a secluded sanctuary for his family. To ensure that privacy, he's been suing families who might stake some claim to that land.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing, who previously called the Zuckerberg lawsuits bullying, says was pleased by Zuckerberg's decision to rethink his plans.

"I am heartened to hear that Mark Zuckerberg is reconsidering his lawsuits against the indigenous kuleana land owners," Rep. Ing said. "This shows the power that everyday people yield when we band together to protect indigenous families and our 'aina.

"The people's voice can and will overcome big money and celebrity--even against the fifth richest man in the world."

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser said that Zuckerberg is filing lawsuits against a few hundred people – many living and some dead -- who inherited or once owned "kuleana lands," which are lands passed down to the heirs of the first landowner without a will or a deed.

Under the Kuleana Act of 1850, those lands are also passed down to people who now only own fractions of an interest in the property. But in many cases, there's no documentation.

In a post on Facebook, Zuckerberg said to find all those entitled to kuleana lands, "we filed what is called a 'quiet title' action. For most of these folks, they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had. No one will be forced off the land."

He added, "We are working with a professor of Native Hawaiian studies and longtime member of this community, who is participating in this quiet title process with us. It is important to us that we respect Hawaiian history and traditions."

A contested case could potentially cost landowners more than $200,000, though Zuckerberg attorney Keoni Shultz has said the Facebook CEO has no intention of contesting any co-owner who can prove their interest in any of the land parcels.

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