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The state stands ready to pay $ 370,418 legal fees after losing a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 2,700 Native Hawaiians who suffered years on the homestead waiting list.
The amount is a small fraction of what the state is expected to pay after the full cost of legal fees is assessed and plaintiffs are awarded damages.
“The state is aware that it will be a very significant amount and this is a consequence of its decision to hold this lawsuit for 20 years,” said attorney Carl Varady, who along with Tom Grande co-founded the plaintiffs in the well-known Case represented as Kalima v. State.
The $ 370,418 payment is pending approval by Hawaii law and only covers attorney fees during an appeal that ran from 2017 to 2020. The case goes back to the 1999 award procedure.
The Hawaii Supreme Court last year gave the state a stinging reprimand for failing to shrink a growing waiting list of native Hawaiians looking for homesteads. In a 5-0 decision, the judges allowed the class action lawsuit to proceed and award damages to plaintiffs, some of whom have waited decades for residential, ranch and agricultural leases on a 203,000 acre land trust.
A lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2009 and held the state liable for violations of the Land Trust. But the case continued to be discussed in court. Around 400 of the plaintiffs have since died.
The state Supreme Court sent the case back to the Circuit Court to determine damages for individual plaintiffs who are expected to be compensated for the rent payments they made over the years they waited on residential property. have done. The state is also ready to cover damage for delays in the allocation of agricultural and pastoral land, although matrices for identifying this damage have not yet been established.
The Land Trust was established by the federal government a century ago and taken over by the state in 1959. At least 50% of Hawaiians can apply for 99-year leases at a cost of $ 1 per year.
The House Finance Committee recently approved the settlement of legal fees and directed the funds to come from the budget of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which oversees the trust. The entire House is expected to vote on the deal and about a dozen more filed by the Hawaii Attorney General this month.
Regarding plaintiffs’ compensation, Varady hoped the compensation award process would begin this year.
“It’s been a long battle and we hope it will be resolved soon so customers don’t have to wait any longer,” he said. “They are all very old and many of them have died since the beginning of the case.”
He said if an applicant dies, the family will receive the severance payment.