One complaint gums up distribution of historic Hawaiian Homelands waitlist settlement

Now, the state Supreme Court may have to save the massive agreement.
Published: Oct. 17, 2023 at 6:00 PM HST|Updated: 4 hours ago
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The historic settlement of the Hawaiian Homelands waitlist case, which involved years of litigation, thousands of beneficiaries and hundreds of millions of dollars, has been stalled by the complaint of a single person. That’s because the complaint forced an appeal.

Now the state Supreme Court may have to save the massive agreement.

After 24 years in court, Oct. 1 was a big day, when $285 million was to be released to more than 2,000 homelands beneficiaries and surviving descendants. That is now up in the air because one person, who may not even have been eligible for payment, filed a complaint.

Landmark settlement approved for Native Hawaiians who spent decades on DHHL waitlist

In his letter to the judge overseeing the settlement, Rickey Rivera specifically said he was appealing his rejection for payment and not trying to overturn the settlement.

The $328 million settlement was decades in the making.

The state agreed to pay Native Hawaiians who were stuck on the waitlist for their costs to rent while waiting for a homestead. The checks were supposed to be in the mail by now.

State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro heard from many who were expecting payment at last.

“They were just about to get there, you know, long, long, long awaited settlement awards, when all of a sudden finding out there’s some appeal going on,” Shimabukuro said.

“That it’s going to delay them for an indefinite amount of time is beyond frustrating for them, many of whom are elderly, and dying.” In her order confirming the appeal to the Intermediate Court of Appeals the judge estimated at least six months would be needed for the appeals to play out.

Judge Lisa Cataldo seemed to blame the state Attorney General for the delay, saying the AG could have agreed that Rivera was not seeking an appeal.

“The state’s position is intractable despite all of the facts,” Cataldo wrote.

She also sympathized with the beneficiaries.

“Their long-awaited receipt of their share of the settlement proceeds is again out of their hands and for now, out of their reach. It is a travesty.”

Shimabukuro sought an explanation from the Attorney General.

“Her understanding is that to start to release funds, prior to this one appeal being settled, would be a violation of the settlement agreement,” Shimabukuro said.

But late Tuesday morning, the Hawaii Supreme Court offered a shortcut — agreeing to take the Rivera appeal on an emergency basis.

“So that will definitely speed things up because it’ll go straight to Supreme Court,” Shimabukuro said. “Once they issued their decision, then there’s no further appeal.

“And so that’s a good thing. That’ll speed things up.”

The is giving the parties only five days to write out their arguments, which implies the court wants a rapid resolution — although after 25 years in court, the beneficiaries aren’t holding their breath.