(BIVN) – The decision by a Maui District Court Judge to issue a bench warrant for defendant Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo – after he identified himself in court using only the Hawaiian language – made national headlines recently.
The day after the controversial order by Judge Blaine Kobayashi, amid a swarm of criticism, an order was issued recalling the bench warrant.
Kaeo, a University of Hawaii professor, has been charged by the state with disorderly conduct for obstructing a highway and refusing to comply with a police officer’s order during an August showdown over the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope being built at the summit of Maui’s Haleakala.
This was not the first time Kaeo has defended himself using ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in court. He and a handful of other bi-lingual Hawaiian language speakers have been testing the state’s policies in the judicial setting. Their actions have evoked different responses from various judges. On Hawaii Island, much of it has involved the Thirty Meter Telescope.
When Kaho’okahi Kanuha was arrested in April 2015 during a stand against the TMT on Mauna Kea, he decided to defend himself the same way in court; using only ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi.
Kaeo later joined Kanuha on Mauna Kea and they were both arrested in June 2015, during another clash with law enforement. Kaeo eventually appeared in a Waimea courtroom before Judge Barbara Takase, who worked with the defendants to communicate despite the langauge barrier.
Kanuha went to trial and was found not guilty. He reflected on the legal victory during a later ʻAha Aloha ʻŌlelo language competition and concert held in Kona.
But during the TMT Contested Case redo in December 2016, Kanuha ran into more interpretation trouble with hearing officer Riki May Amano. Amano asked Kanuha if he could please write out the Hawaiian words he used during his cross examination so the court reporter could accurately transcribe them.
Kanuha questioned the fairness of Amano’s request, given that English words do not have to go through the same treatment.
Amano returned the following day and read the constitutional provision that deals with Hawaiian as an official language of the state.
As a result of the most recent incident on Maui, the Judiciary clarified:
The Judiciary will provide or permit qualified Hawaiian language interpreters to the extent reasonably possible when parties in courtroom proceedings choose to express themselves through the Hawaiian language.
And at the state legislature, a proposed bill, SB 2687, requires courts to provide Hawaiian language translation services upon request of any party to a proceeding. The bill will get a hearing before the Senate Committees on Hawaiian Affairs, Higher Education and Judiciary on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. in Conference Room 211.
The bill was introduced by Senate Majority Leader, J. Kalani English.
“Up until the early 20th century, government operations in Hawaiʻi were conducted almost entirely in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi,” said Sen. English. “SB2687 is a natural progression in the revitalization and implementation of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi in government affairs. We are committed to ensuring equal access for all to services in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi ”