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Kahuku renters' lawyer defends zealous tactics

A Maunawili attorney's aggressive strategy to keep his 31 clients from being evicted includes scores of court hearings, bankruptcy filings and a planned $10 million lawsuit

By Andrew Gomes

LAST UPDATED: 8:47 p.m. HST, Nov 6, 2013

Tony Locricchio doesn't mind starting a fight -- or dragging one out -- in litigation when he believes it's in the interest of "my people."

His people are 31 clients renting old plantation homes at Kahuku Village V, and Locricchio is the Oahu attorney playing a central and somewhat controversial role in the entrenched battle with the Florida-based developer that owns the village.

Locricchio has done an immense amount of work trying to block the developer, Continental Pacific LLC, from evicting residents from the village known as KV5.


The former plantation camp, Kahuku Village V, was sold to a Florida developer in 2006 and now is being split between those who support the developer's plans and those opposed.

Sunday: Homeowners vs. renters

Today: Fighting eviction

Tuesday: Deep ties

By his estimate, he has attended close to 100 court hearings and so far managed to keep all but one resident from being evicted.

But Locricchio's tactics, which include bankruptcy filings for five residents and repeated efforts to have judges recused from cases due to alleged bias, have been criticized as attempts to obfuscate and delay.

"Mr. Locricchio, he says all kinds of stuff," said Reynolds Henderson, a Continental principal. "This guy just throws things at the wall. This guy is throwing knives at us all the time. If you go to a court hearing and hear him say things, it's frickin' amazing."

Henderson says that only nine KV5 residents still face eviction, including one who only has to pay back delinquent rent to remain in her home. Locricchio disputes that, and says 31 KV5 residents he represents remain threatened by eviction.

Locricchio makes no apologies for being zealous, and says he is providing an aggressive and confrontational defense against an opponent he regards as a team of "cowboys" trying to ride roughshod over KV5 residents.

"The Florida developer doesn't have any sensitivity," he said.

Locricchio, 76, is a colorful character who works out of his Maunawili home, jokes that he doesn't hear well and acknowledges that some of his arguments are hard to comprehend.

The attorney came to Hawaii in 1974 to head the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, a nonprofit providing legal services to the indigent. The organization's board, however, fired Locricchio in 1978 after staff complaints and allegations of misappropriated money.

Locricchio responded with a $3 million lawsuit against the organization alleging that it fired him without cause and damaged his reputation with false and defamatory statements. According to court records, 50 Legal Aid employees signed a petition seeking the resignation of Locricchio, who was critical of staff attorneys for what he viewed as light caseloads. The case was settled before trial, but it took five years and included an appeal to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Locricchio also sued the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Legal Services Corp. that largely funded Legal Aid and urged his firing. He won a $537,500 jury award in that case, though it was later reduced to $337,500.

After that, Locricchio said he became a "gentleman lawyer" taking selective cases, especially for people unable to afford high-priced legal representation.

One such case was in the late 1980s representing farmers in Maunawili Valley against a Japanese developer proposing a 36-hole golf course on land they leased to grow food.

Y.Y. Valley Corp., the developer of Royal Hawaiian Country Club, offered to relocate farmers but sued to evict those who turned the offer down.

KV5 residents sought out Locricchio partly based on his experience with cases such as that one.

Since late last year, Locricchio has met with KV5 residents most Wednesdays at the village's Methodist Church. The attorney said he collects $75 a month from each of the 31 tenants, who also gather at Locricchio's home on Sundays to help work on case documents.

Locricchio did get some eviction cases dismissed last year because they were filed too soon after issuing lease termination notices or before purchase offers were made. But those cases generally were refiled and are pending.

In defending against ongoing cases, Locricchio has made a long list of arguments. Some of the allegations are:

» that condominium lots were improperly created for sale;

» that the developer was bound to sell lots for $75,000;

» that residents should be able to use $60,000 in rent paid over the past roughly seven years toward a purchase;

» that much of the infrastructure and lot construction is illegal;

» and that political connections of Continental attorney Lex Smith, who was Mayor Kirk Caldwell's campaign chairman, have influenced the project.

Except for initial cases where Continental proceeded with eviction too early, Locricchio has yet to prevail in a case. However, he has prevented Continental from getting a summary judgment, which would allow the case to be decided without a trial. Locricchio chalks up these decisions against the developer as wins.

The one eviction that did happen was because of a mix-up over the time of a hearing, according to Locricchio.

Continental's Henderson is frustrated by what he views as a colossal waste of time and money.

"It really stinks that we're sitting in court when everyone could have bought or tried to buy," he said.

Locricchio says his arguments in court have to be extensive to lay a foundation for appeal. "The judges are furious at me because I won't lay down," he said.

In addition to planned appeals, Locricchio is working on what he calls "the big one" -- a lawsuit

he said he plans to file seeking

$10 million in criminal penalties against the developer and government officials including the mayor.

Though some KV5 residents solidly pin their hopes on Locricchio's efforts, others have settled or taken Continental's offer to buy.

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