WAILUKU - The attorney for Maui County Council Member Sol Kaho'ohalahala said Monday that, even if he was only seen on the island occasionally, he met the law's requirements and qualified as a resident of Lanai.
But the attorney for 17 plaintiffs seeking to remove Kaho'ohalahala from office said that, while the council member had said he moved back to the island, the evidence showed he was still living on Maui.
The two sides presented closing arguments Monday in the trial of a lawsuit that claims Kaho'ohalahala, who holds the council's Lanai residency seat, doesn't live on Lanai, in violation of council residency requirements.
Maui County Council Member Sol Kaho‘ohalahala listens to closing arguments with attorney Ben Lowenthal on Monday in 2nd Circuit Court. Judge Joseph Cardoza did not set a date for when he might rule on a lawsuit that claims Kaho‘ohalahala does not live on Lanai and should not serve in the council’s Lanai residency seat.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Second Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza did not immediately set a date for when he would hand down his decision in the case.
Kaho'ohalahala had been a legal resident of Lahaina when he registered to vote as a Lanai resident in July 2008, a few weeks before he filed to run for the Lanai seat on the council.
The Hawaii Supreme Court previously ruled in a separate case that the 2008 voter registration was invalid because Kaho'ohalahala had not actually moved back to Lanai, and remained a resident of Lahaina. But that case did not deal with Kaho'ohalahala's eligibility to hold office, and new evidence and arguments were presented in the current lawsuit.
Honolulu attorney Ken Kupchak, who is representing the challengers, said Kaho'ohalahala had failed to show he had formally abandoned his home on Maui - something the high court in its previous ruling said was a key requirement to establishing a new residency.
On the contrary, Kupchak said the evidence showed Kaho'ohalahala continued to live and spend most of his time on Maui. He noted Kaho'ohalahala signed a federal tax return in 2009 that listed the Lahaina address as his home, and that fewer than 1 percent of his documented purchases were on Lanai over a three-year period. During the same time, he continued to pay for household expenses in the Lahaina home, Kupchak said.
After the state's high court voided his Lanai voter registration, Kaho'ohalahala registered to vote again as a Lanai resident, this time presenting additional information, including a Lanai vehicle registration. But he didn't disclose that the vehicle on Lanai was no longer running or insured, and that he and his wife owned two working cars on Maui, Kupchak said.
Kaho'ohalahala's council travel records showed he spent less than 15 percent of his time on Lanai, and residents reported seeing him only rarely on the island, Kupchak added.
"It's just his word against the documents in this case," he said.
But Kaho'ohalahala's attorney, Ben Lowenthal, said the law didn't set a minimum amount of time a person had to spend in a place in order to qualify as a resident.
"Even a day will suffice," he said.
He said Kaho'ohalahala did provide evidence to show that he had really moved back to Lanai.
"The evidence came from Mr. Kaho'ohalahala and those closest to him - his brother and his wife," Lowenthal said.
When Kaho'ohalahala decided to run for the council, he spoke with his wife and they agreed he would move out of their home and back to live with family members on Lanai. He also talked with his brother who agreed to let him move in to his home, Lowenthal said.
Kaho'ohalahala packed his belongings in boxes and coolers and took them back to Lanai over several trips, moving them into a room in his brother's home that the children in the family called "Uncle Sol's room," Lowenthal said.
"The physical presence is sufficient. He made five trips, and there is documentary evidence of at least one of those trips," Lowenthal said, noting bank records showed a ferry ticket purchased in September of 2008. "Physical presence was established under the law."
He noted that, when Kaho'ohalahala is back on the island, he spends much of his time fishing and hunting in remote areas.
"It's understandable the people in Lanai City don't see him," he said.
As for the claim that Kaho'ohalahala had not abandoned his previous home in Lahaina, Lowenthal said the council member's behavior showed that he had.
While Kaho'ohalahala had previously done chores at the Lahaina home and joined his wife and daughter for dinner, after he moved back to Lanai he no longer participated regularly in those activities, instead contributing more to the household in Lanai.
Lowenthal noted that when Kaho'ohalahala's wife moved to a different home in Lahaina, she wrote on her lease that her husband "will be staying periodically only."
Kaho'ohalahala was born and grew up on Lanai, and "has always considered it his home," Lowenthal added. He said the council member met the requirements under the law.
"Mr. Kaho'ohalahala is in fact a resident," he said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.