TMT protesters’ court appearances spark brief moments of levity

  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Abel Simeona Lui holds a conch shell he blew from the courtroom gallery when his case was called Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Thirty Meter Telescope protesters, attorneys and others wait in the hallway for the courtroom to open Friday morning.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Richard DeLeon turns to talk to his attorney, Melody Parker, Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Walter Ritte Jr. returns to the courtroom gallery at the conclusion of his hearing Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Loretta Ritte returns to the courtroom gallery at the conclusion of her hearing Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Desmon Haumea returns to the courtroom gallery at the conclusion of his hearing Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Pualani Kanaka'ole-Kanahele appears Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Maxine Kaha'ulelio turns to her attorney, Aaron Wills, Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Daycia-Dee Chun appears with attorney Francis Alcain Friday in Hilo District Court.
  • JOHN BURNETT/Tribune-Herald Deborah Lee holds a kahili Friday outside Hilo District Court.

It was mostly business as 28 protesters of the Thirty Meter Telescope project, mostly kupuna, or elders, made their initial court appearances today in Hilo District Court on obstruction charges for blocking construction trucks and workers from scaling Maunakea to start construction on July 17.

There were, however, some unusual and even humorous moments, as all pleaded not guilty.


Desmon Haumea, one of the protesters — who refer to themselves as kia‘i, or “protectors,” of the mountain some Native Hawaiians consider sacred — had a question for Judge Kanani Laubach about an immigration advisement she’s required by law to read to defendants.

“Based on your narrative, if I do get deported, will I get deported to … ?” Haumea asked and his voice trailed off.

“I don’t know, sir. We don’t get involved in deportation,” Laubach replied and cited the statute requiring her to read the advisement.

When told by Laubach at the end of his hearing he’s to appear at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 18 for a pretrial conference, Haumea, a chef who has taught culinary arts, asked, “Will lunch be served?” That prompted a fair amount of laughter in the courtroom gallery, and even Laubach could be seen chuckling as she answered in the negative.

Another humorous moment came after Laubach told Maxine Kaha‘ulelio, “I’m sorry if I say your name wrong, but I’m going to do my best,” then mispronounced Kaha‘ulelio’s name.

After instructing Laubach on the proper way to pronounce her name, Kaha‘ulelio said, “The last name is lelio, the horse. The man who fell off the horse,” eliciting laughter from the gallery.

Laubach set Kaha‘ulelio’s pretrial conference for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 18.

When his name was called for his case, Abel Lui, a Ka‘u elder known as “Uncle Abel,” rose in his second-row gallery seat and blew loudly on a conch shell, or pu.

“My name is Abel Simeona Lui,” Lui told the court, “an Hawaiian national living in Hawaii Islands. I want a competent attorney to represent me to allow ke ea o ka ‘aina i ka pono. Aloha. Anu ai ke‘ia. Aloha.” Lui was referring to part of the state motto, which is about perpetuating the land in righteousness, and describing the court proceeding as cold in Hawaiian.

Asked by Laubach if he had any questions about the immigration advisement, Lui replied, “I got a lot of questions, but, you know … .”

“Regarding immigration, the immigration advisement,” Laubach said.

“That’s another problem that we got there,” Lui replied. “I don’t belong to any of you guys. My mom gave me to God. My mom told my mama and my grandfather and everybody from this moment on, this child belong to God. For the record.”

Lui also was ordered to appear for a pretrial conference at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 18, as were Daycia-Dee Chun, Richard DeLeon, Alika K. Desha, William “Billy” Freitas, Patricia Greene, Maxine Kaha‘ulelio, Linda Leilani Lindsey-Kaapuni, Donna Leong, James “Jimmy” Naniole, Luana Neff, John Turalde and Noe Noe Wong-Wilson.

Laubach waived the presence of some defendants at their Oct. 18 pretrial conference, but told them they had to keep in touch with their attorneys and show up for trial when it is set. Those include: Roberta Bennett, Gene Burke, Deborah Lee, Renee Price, Damien Marie-Trask and Mililani Trask.

Pretrial conferences were scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 23 for Pualani Kanaka‘ole-Kanahele, Deena Oana-Hurwitz, Walter Ritte and Loretta Ritte. The Rittes live on Molokai, and their presence was waived.

Attorneys for Flora Hookano and Daniel Li said they would be filing motions to dismiss charges. Those motions will be heard at 10 a.m. Nov. 1.

Sharol M. Awai demanded a trial, which was scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 1.

Kelii Ioane and Liko Martin weren’t present. Their court dates were rescheduled for Oct. 18.

After the hearings, Lee, daughter of the late Keaukaha Community Association President Kwai Wah Lee, said her reason for blocking Maunakea Access Road was about more than just TMT.

“In 1980, I was 21 and I applied for Hawaiian Homes. Last month, Aug. 15, 2019, I turned 60 years old. And I have nothing, “Lee said. “I’m 411 on the wait list for the Big Island. “… They have no problems, Hawaiian Homes, giving commercial lands to Target, Safeway, the Prince Kuhio mall and other entities here on our island. But they couldn’t even clear 411 people off the waiting list in 37 years.

“I’ve been waiting 37 years calmly, patiently. … Next year is 2020. It’s been 100 years since the Hawaiian Homes Act of 1920. They’ve done nothing. It’s been 37 years. I could’ve paid a mortgage off in 30 years.”

Two individuals arrested and charged Sept. 6 for obstruction during the demolition of a unpermitted structure at Puu Huluhulu, Mauloaokalani Covington and Eric Johnston, did not make appearances today.

In addition, nine individuals who made their initial court appearances on Aug. 23 appeared again this afternoon.

Trials were scheduled for 9 a.m. Nov. 1 for Jim Albertini, Edleen Peleiholani and Hawley Reese.

Ana Kahoopii, Carmen Hulu Lindsey and Hawley Reese were ordered to appear for trial at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 22.

Tomas Belsky and Marie Alohalani Brown have hearings for motions at 10 a.m. Nov. 1.


And a pretrial conference was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Oct. 18 for Kaliko Kanaele.

Email John Burnett at

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