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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 13, 2007

Home lands suit to proceed

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

A class action lawsuit against the state seeking money damages for past breaches of trust by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands will proceed following certification by Circuit Judge Victoria Marks yesterday.

The case can now proceed toward a scheduled Oct. 1 trial with a majority of the 2,721 beneficiaries in the case permitted to pursue their claims as a class, rather than as individuals.

At issue is whether DHHL and the state breached their trust obligations to Native Hawaiians by failing to place them on homesteads in a prompt manner, and imposing rules that made it more difficult for Native Hawaiians to benefit from the program.

Some of the class members have died waiting, attorney Carl Varady said. The plan for proceeding approved by Marks "streamlines the process in such a way that we can get a prompt resolution of these claims and there will be fewer people to die waiting for this case to come to its conclusion, fewer people to die waiting for a homestead."

State Deputy Attorney General Girard Lau, who is representing DHHL in the proceedings, said he was disappointed at Marks' decision.

"We think that the suit should have been dismissed or, at the very least, substantially curtailed," Lau said. "We also don't believe that class action treatment on the scale that the plaintiffs seek is proper."

Lau said the claims represent "very, very different factual scenarios," making a class settlement difficult.

Varady said that four subclasses are identified in an amended complaint dealing with the issues of the DHHL waiting list, unlawful rules, lost applications and successorship.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.