Judge rules for ranch as trail case proceeds

WAILUKU – Second Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza denied a motion by Public Access Trails Hawaii on Friday morning to expedite the discovery period in an ongoing lawsuit against Haleakala Ranch.

The ranch, which has sought to retain ownership of Haleakala Trail from the state for the past two years, was granted 90 days to respond to expert reports yet to be provided by the hikers’ group. PATH has until July 17 to produce the documents.

“Today’s hearing is largely a procedural matter related to a motion but Haleakala Ranch takes all court proceedings very seriously,” ranch President Don Young said in a written statement after attending Friday’s hearing. “We have confidence the court will make fair and unbiased decisions throughout this process.”

During the hearing, PATH attorney Tom Pierce asked the court to keep the designated response deadline of 60 days, calling the additional time an “ulterior motive” to further delay hearings.

“We find their exhibit to be confusing and we’re urging the court to rule that deadlines are deadlines,” he said.

Ranch attorney Michael Gibson called the proposal “completely reasonable.”

“This idea that we’re trying to play games with the court is untrue,” he said.

Although Cardoza ruled in favor of the ranch, he said he would allow “tweaking” of the discovery date with the agreement of both sides.

“I think this is fair for everyone,” he said.

In May, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved hiking along the historic trail for the first time in seven decades. The opening was an agreement between the ranch, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Forestry and Wildlife Division and Na Ala Hele Trail & Access System, and provided free, guided hikes along a portion of the trail.

“The history of the Haleakala Bridle Trail is complex, but the issue of public safety is quite simple,” Young said. “Tragically, the recent deaths of two hikers on Oahu demonstrate that a commitment to safety must be of paramount importance when it comes to hiking.

“The ranch and the state developed the (memorandum of agreement) over a mutual concern for public safety and to-date, six guided public hikes have been successfully completed.”

When asked about Young’s comments, Pierce said that the issue “has nothing to do with safety,” but rather “the ownership of the trail.”

“The safety issue really is a red herring,” he said. “There’s no rocks to fall on and this trail goes across grassland . . . once we get past the ownership issue then it’ll be something to look at.”

The trial date is slated for mid-March.