Lā 314: Six more TMT protesters acquitted

By TOM CALLIS Hawaii Tribune-Herald   February 2, 2016

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Judge Takase

A district court judge acquitted an additional six Thirty Meter Telescope opponents of obstruction charges after defendants argued their actions prevented a greater harm from occurring.

According to court minutes, the defendants told Judge Barbara Takase that standing in the way of construction vehicles heading to the TMT construction site below Mauna Kea’s summit last year was the only way to prevent “desecration” of a mountain they consider sacred.

The judge, after finding protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha not guilty a month ago, agreed with their arguments during bench trials Jan. 22 in Waimea and found that prosecutors could not disprove the “choice of evil defenses.”

The not guilty verdicts follow a state Supreme Court decision in early December that overturned the $1.4 billion project’s land use permit. The state Board of Land and Natural Resources, the court said, should have had a contested case hearing before approving the permit.

The permit issue has been reverted back to 3rd Circuit Court, which will be responsible for sending the matter back to the Land Board for consideration.

On Friday, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources issued a legal notice announcing it was looking to hire a new hearings officer if another contested case hearing is held.

TMT officials have not commented about whether they will pursue the permit again.

The high court’s decision appears to have shifted the district court’s view of the charges against the demonstrators, who were arrested during two of the three roadblocks on the mountain. More than four dozen people were arrested for blocking vehicles or other violations on the mountain during the protests, though some already had their cases dismissed.

According to court records, three protesters were found guilty of the same charges prior to the high court’s ruling. Sentences included community service or fines.

One man was sentenced to five days in jail at his request, though that sentence was stayed.

Hearings for other defendants are scheduled for March 3 or later.