A Kauai judge has struck down an attempt to arrest another judge who presided over the contentious land dispute that resulted in the shutdown of a protesters’ camp on the grounds of the decrepit Coco Palms resort on Kauai.

Filed by an unrecognized “court” aligned with the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, the arrest order targeted Judge Michael K. Soong, who in January ruled in favor of developers seeking to revitalize the long-shuttered hotel on Kauai’s eastern shore.

Soong’s Jan. 23 ruling confirmed the validity of a special warranty deed to the property, which Coco Palms Hui had purchased from an insurance company. The ruling granted a writ of possession to Coco Palms; however, a writ of possession doesn’t necessarily mean Coco Palms owns the land, just that is has a right to possess the land for now.

An ahu was built by members of the occupation camp and their supporters at the entryway to the encampment, which has now been cleared by authorities. Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat

In a quiet title case that’s pending, the court will be asked to determine the disputed parcel’s legal owner.

A few days after Soong ordered the ejection of protest leaders Noa Mau-Espirito and Kamu “Charles” Hepa from the resort property, the co-defendants filed a notice in court informing Soong that they had obtained a default judgment against him on the grounds that his ruling in the land ownership battle violated the Geneva Convention. The order listed several charges and threatened to arrest Soong if he did not surrender.

In court, the protesters who claimed to have genealogical land rights to the hotel grounds accused Soong of being complicit in war crimes.

The arrest order was supported by a theory championed by some members of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement that the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the U.S. government was illegal, and therefore any ruling by the U.S. judicial system is void in the islands.

The document was signed by Moses Enoka Heanu, who represents himself as the chief justice of what he calls the Hawaiian Judiciary Court of the Sovereign.

The motion to strike Heanu’s threat to arrest a Fifth Circuit judge was filed by the state Attorney General’s office on the grounds that it was “impertinent, disrespectful, an abuse of the judicial process and virtually incomprehensible.”

“These allegations of wrongdoing against Judge Soong are complete fabrications; they have no basis in fact whatsoever,” an AG’s office memorandum stated.

Special Assistant to the Attorney General Dana Viola told Civil Beat that the AG’s office treated the situation seriously.

Wayne Nasser, the attorney representing Honolulu-based redevelopment firm Coco Palms Hui, also called on the court to strike the default judgment.

“The whole thing is just utterly ridiculous,” Nasser said.

Last week’s legal action was the latest development in an impassioned battle over land rights at the site of the famed hotel where Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” was filmed in 1961 and where, long before that, Kaua’i’s last queen, Deborah Kapule Kaumuali’i, dwelled.

The resort has been closed since it was heavily damaged in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki.

The dispute has lasted almost a year, stalling a planned reopening of the site as the Coco Palms Resort by Hyatt with an estimated $135 million project.

Until authorities shut down the protest camp, about a dozen Native Hawaiians claiming ancestral ties to the land had lived on the property for as long as a year while farming taro, keeping watch over ancient burials and hosting Hawaiian language classes.

One protester who has been living at the camp was arrested on suspicion of trespass when authorities cleared out the property Feb. 22, according to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.

Thoughts on this or any other story? We’re replacing comments with a new letters column. Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes.

About the Author