Native Hawaiians who believe they are citizens of the Hawaiian Kingdom — not the United States — nonetheless spent Thursday in an American court defending themselves against charges they trespassed on the grounds of their rightful seat of government, Iolani Palace.

Weeks after invoking their Hawaiian sovereignty rights before a Honolulu judge, the 23 demonstrators arrested at Iolani Palace in November showed up to stand trial in Honolulu District Court.

Those arrested, members of the self-proclaimed Aupuni O Ko Hawaii Pae Aina/Hawaiian Kingdom Government, are charged with second-degree criminal trespassing for refusing to leave palace grounds after hours on Nov. 7. The defendants had argued at their arraignments that they were not U.S. citizens, but “living sovereigns” of the kingdom of Hawaii.

Although they believe they are under the jurisdiction of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the defendants appeared in court because they felt it’s important to defend their actions and prove they did nothing wrong, says Mahealani Kahanaoi.

She prefers to be called Her Royal Majesty Mahealani and says she is the elected “head of state” for the group. She was one of those arrested.

Kahanaoi said the kingdom holds the title to Iolani Palace, and therefore the group had every right to remain on the property.

“Even if an offer is put on the table — to pay a fee or a fine — we wouldn’t take it because then we would be admitting something we didn’t do,” Kahanaoi told Civil Beat.

State deputy attorney general Vince Kanemoto had hoped to prosecute the cases Thursday before Judge Dean Ochiai. Instead, just six defendants went to trial in the afternoon. Their trial is scheduled to continue Friday afternoon.

Five other defendants were granted a continuance until Feb. 21. Twelve other defendants had their trial date moved to March 13 because their lawyer, Honolulu attorney Michael Green, was absent. Before leaving the courtroom, those 12 each read the following statement to the judge:

“I am reserving my vested rights under the Hawaiian Kingdom legislative session of 1892, Chapter 57, Section 7. This legislative session is cited in Section 1-1 of your Hawaii Revised Statutes, where Hawaii judicial precedence and Hawaiian usage is stated.”

The six who stood trial Thursday were:

  • Solomon Hoopai Jr.
  • Charlotte Kahalewai
  • Dayne Kahau
  • Keline Kahau
  • Lambert Smith
  • Duane Waiolama

On Nov. 6, the night before the arrests, some members had locked the gates to the palace shut after holding a social gathering on the grounds. The gates are normally open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Kahanaoi says the gates were locked following a “threatening gesture” from a security guard with the Friends of Iolani Palace, which manages the palace under a lease with the state.

The following evening, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced that it would be closing the palace grounds for a week — the same week of the high-profile Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit being held in Honolulu.

William Aila, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, testified Thursday that the APEC meetings played in to the decision to close the palace. The palace is considered a state monument, which falls under the jurisdiction of state parks.

“In response to what had happened the night before and other things happening around Honolulu — HPD having to arrest people up the street — we decided to close the grounds until the following Tuesday.”

He said “APEC taxed our security resources” and the defendants “presented a potential for harm to the property or the public.”

An enforcement officer with Aila’s department read aloud a notice to the group twice that evening, Aila testified. The warning stated that people who did not leave would be subject to arrest and prosecution, he said.

Judge Ochiai allowed the six defendants, who declined the services of the Public Defender’s Office, to cross examine witnesses.

Charlotte Kahalewai asked Aila why she was arrested.

“You were arrested because the park was closed. You were given notification, and you decided not to leave,” Aila replied. “The people who remained, in my opinion, decided to be arrested.”

When questioning Michael Harken, the officer who read the group the closure notice, Keline Kahau stated: “We had the right to be where were at.”

Duane Waiolama asked Ochiai to simply dismiss the charges, to which the judge replied: “If we get to that point, that’s a possibility, but we’re not there yet.”

Kanemoto, the deputy attorney general, called three of the six arresting officers as witnesses before the court adjourned for the day.

“Hopefully we can wrap it up tomorrow,” Ochiai said. “The court’s moving as quickly as it can.”

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