HILO >> Nine of the 38 people arrested last month while protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope made their first appearance in court Friday.
All nine, including Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey, pleaded not guilty to obstructing a roadway and were ordered to attend Sept. 20 pretrial hearings at the same Hilo District Court.
Nearly 200 people who oppose the stalled TMT filled the courtroom and spilled into the hallway in support of the arrested kupuna, or elders.
Meanwhile, a Big Island circuit judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to make the developers of the TMT put up a substantial performance bond before starting construction.
However, Judge Greg Nakamura did leave a little door open when he issued a decision saying the plaintiffs could petition the state Board of Land and Natural Resources to require the performance bond before seeking any remedy in court.
The Hawaii Supreme Court had mentioned the bond in its ruling on the project’s conditional use permit. In a footnote the court urged the BLNR to ensure that areas used by TMT are restored “at no cost to the state, whether through requiring an appropriate performance bond or through imposing funding and/or other requirements.”
>> PHOTO GALLERY: Thirty Meter Telescope opponents appear in court
On Friday the Mauna Kea Hui did as Nakamura suggested, formally petitioning the BLNR to set aside the project’s construction permit until a performance bond is posted.
On a different floor in Hilo’s state Judiciary building, the courtroom of Judge Bruce A. Larson was standing-room-only as the kupuna were arraigned one after the other.
“I plead not guilty for being on Hawaiian land,” said Edleen Peleiholani as she held onto a red-and-yellow feathered kahili.
Others appearing before the judge Friday and charged with refusing to obey an officer and obstructing a roadway July 17 were Jim Albertini, Tomas Belsky, Marie Brown, Ana Kahoopii, Kaliko Kanaele, Hawley Reese and Ranette Robinson.
All were represented by legal counsel. The charge is a petty misdemeanor, which can result in 30 days in jail and as much as a $1,000 fine.
The largely Native Hawaiian kiai, or “protectors,” are protesting what many of them consider the desecration of a sacred mountain, having occupied Mauna Kea Access Road since the announced start of construction of the next-generation telescope July 15.
At the start of the protest, the kupuna volunteered to become the first to be arrested, parking themselves in a tent in the middle of the road. And that’s what happened July 17. Pictures of the arrests caused outrage among many Hawaiians and served to boost the Mauna Kea cause.
Oahu attorney Sonny Ganaden, who represented three of the kupuna, said defense attorneys have any number of options for arguing why their clients should get off, including several violations of the federal and state constitutions.
“We believe our clients were peaceably assembled, utilizing their rights under the First Amendment and the state equivalent, including the right to free speech and to gather for religious purposes,” he said. “We’re looking forward to our day in court.”
After her arraignment Friday, Lindsey said she felt no shame having to appear before the judge and answer for her alleged misdeed.
“There’s no shame at all when we protect our natural resources and sacred places. I’m proud to stand with our people,” said Lindsey, the Maui representative on the OHA board of trustees.
Among those who attended court in support of the arrested elders was Jan Espere of Waimea, who sat in the front row wearing Mauna Kea triangle earrings and a dress bearing the image of Queen Lili‘uokalani. She said she was there out of love and appreciation for the sacrifice made by those who got arrested.
“It’s more than just supporting them; it’s truly supporting the Hawaiian people,” she said.
“We stand with them today just like we did 40 days ago when they got arrested,” protest leader Kaho‘okahi Kanuha said.
Kanuha said he was proud of the kupuna.
“To know that those are the footsteps we follow, that they continue to clear the pathway for us going forward and show us not only what to do, but how to do it. The way they carry themselves with dignity and discipline, with a sense of calmness yet with so much strength at the same time. And so we wanted to come down here today and show them our support,” he said.
Two more groups of those arrested July 17 are scheduled to be arraigned in September and October. Among those still due to make their appearances are veteran activists Walter Ritte and Mililani Trask, and kumu hula Pualani Kanakaole Kanahele.
In Circuit Court on the third floor, Judge Namakamura dismissed the security bond lawsuit, saying it was already litigated during the project’s lengthy contested case hearing.
“They lost, so they do not get a second bite at the apple,” said Ross Shinyama, attorney for the TMT International Observatory.
Nakamura also ruled that the 1977 Mauna Kea Plan that called for the bond is obsolete and superseded by subsequent plans, Shinyama said.
Mauna Kea Hui leader Kealoha Pisciotta said the group was still deciding whether to appeal the decision.