By Jessica Webster Advertiser Staff Writer
HONOLULU – A Circuit Court judge ruled yesterday that three Native Hawaiian beneficiaries of Hawaiian Home Lands, and a proposed group of 2,721 Native Hawaiian beneficiaries, have a right to sue the state in a class-action lawsuit for breach of trust.
Because of the state terminated a state-established panel that reviewed Native Hawaiian claims and never compensated them for damages, Circuit court Judge Victoria Marks ruled, the plaintiffs have no choice but to seek compensation through the court system.
Thomas Grande, the attorney representing the Native Hawaiian beneficiaries of the Home Lands, called it a “historic” day.
“This is the first time in an 80-year history that Native Hawaiian beneficiaries of Hawaiian Home Lands will have a right to have their day in court,” said Grande. “This decision shows that the state is not above the law.”
Grande’s co-counsel, Carl Varady, said he looks forward to “being able to hold the state to its promises.”
“It’s difficult to imagine a group of people in Hawaii that the state has treated more shabbily than Hawaiians,” said Varady.
Hawaii deputy attorney general Charleen Aina said the state is not at fault if a “mechanism” for action and compensation is not available for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries of the Home Lands. It is not in the best interest of the courts, she said, to allow 2,721 people as a group to seek compensation through the court system.
“This is a serious decision, and we’re talking appeal, but we know the sooner the issues are resolved the better,” Aina said.