Hawaii Could Pay Over $370K In Homestead Lawyer Fees

HONOLULU (AP) — The state of Hawaii could pay over $370,000 in lawyer fees after losing a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 2,700 Native Hawaiians who spent years on the waitlist for homestead land.

The $370,418 payment is pending approval from the state Legislature and covers only attorneys fees during an appeal that stretched from 2017 to 2020, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

The amount is just a portion of what the state is expected to pay after the full costs for lawyer fees are determined and damages are awarded to those waitlisted.

“The state is well aware that it is going to be a very significant amount and that’s a consequence of its decision to fight this lawsuit for 20 years,” said attorney Carl Varady, who has represented the plaintiffs in the case, known as Kalima v. State.

The Hawaii Supreme Court last year voted unanimously to allow the class-action lawsuit to continue and for damages to be awarded to plaintiffs, some of whom have waited for decades for leases on the state's 203,000 acre (about 82,151 hectare) land trust.

The land trust was created by the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 to improve the lives of Native Hawaiians, who are defined as having at least 50% Hawaiian ancestry.

Native Hawaiians are eligible to apply for 99-year leases at $1 per year for residential, ranching or farming leases on a land trust of 317 square miles (821 square kilometers) overseen by the agency.

There are currently about 23,000 Native Hawaiian applicants on the waitlist.

Cedric Duarte, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Home lands, did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by The Associated Press on Sunday.