Sparks fly at hearing for TMT protesters

Screen Shot 2015 05 08 At 02.32.11 PmBy JOHN BURNETT Hawaii Tribune-Herald
WAIMEA — It was round two in court Thursday for Thirty Meter Telescope protesters arrested April 2 on Mauna Kea. But unlike the earlier court proceedings last month in Hilo, numerous defendants came out swinging.

Thirty of the 31, who call themselves “protectors” of Mauna Kea, appeared in Hamakua District Court in Waimea. They were joined in the tiny courthouse by an overflow crowd of more than 100, some of whom viewed the hearings from outside through the building’s screened jalousie windows.

One, Keoni Payton, a 39-year-old Kaneohe, Oahu, resident, was a no-show, as he was on April 28 in Hilo. Judge Barbara Takase issued a bench warrant for his arrest for contempt of court and set bail at $400. She also ordered forfeiture of his $250 bail on a charge of disobeying a police officer. His arrest, and those of the others, stemmed from the blockade of Mauna Kea Access Road in an attempt to prevent construction of the $1.4 billion observatory on the mountain they consider sacred.

Some face a charge of disobeying a police officer, others face charges of trespassing or obstructing a roadway, all petty misdemeanors punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Moanikeala Akaka of Hilo demanded the hearings be moved back to Hilo. “Are you just trying to give us a hard time because of the role that we’re playing in the community?” she asked Takase.

Another Hilo resident, Danette Godines, said holding the hearings in Waimea presented a hardship and took issue with being asked to come back June 18 for further proceedings.

“On April 28 we were supposed to be given our arraignment and plea,” she said. “I drove for over two hours, just for you to tell me to turn back around and come back another time? No. This is wrong. … This is undue harassment.”

Godines said she’d “like to hold this court in contempt of the law.”

Hawaiian sovereignty also was brought up by several of the defendants, including Akaka.

“As far as I’m concerned, this court has no legal authority over me,” she said.

Lakea Trask of Hilo said he’d “like to object to this whole process” and said he complied with the order to appear “under duress.”

“I’m only here, in distress, because of the threat of force,” he said.

Screen Shot 2015 05 08 At 02.34.58 PmOahu attorney Dexter Kaiama, who represented numerous defendants, asked that hearings for some of his clients include a Hawaiian language interpreter, because his clients want to exercise their right to speak in Hawaiian. One, Chase Kahookahi Kanuha of Kailua-Kona, addressed the court in Hawaiian.

“Mr. Kanuha, I can’t understand you, so I can’t respond to you,” Takase replied.

Some defendants entered not guilty pleas while others deferred entering a plea until a later court date. Most were given June 18 return dates; others were told to return July 2.

Anastasha Dandelion Luttrell of Hilo engaged in several testy exchanges with the judge, who threatened to hold her in contempt of court. Takase warned her and others if they continued to argue or speak out of order she would find them in contempt.

As she did at the April 28 hearing, Takase granted refunds of the $250 bail to several defendants. The judge again denied the return of Luttrell’s bail money as she did at the first hearing after Luttrell said she had transportation problems. That prompted an outburst from Luttrell.

“I’d like to know why my bail’s being denied,” she said, loudly, as she was restrained by co-defendants.

Gov. David Ige has announced a temporary moratorium on TMT’s construction while hoping to reach agreement with those who oppose the project.

Screen Shot 2015 05 08 At 02.34.58 PmAn emailed statement after the hearing from one of the defendants, Craig Neff, said the group was “wrongfully arrested for practicing aloha ‘aina and exercising our rights to protect our sacred mountain and precious elements from further desecration.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaii tribune-herald.com.