WAILUKU - Attorneys for former Maui County Council Member Sol Kaho'ohalahala have filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to force him out of office, noting that his term ended almost six months ago.
But plaintiffs in the lawsuit said that doing so would reward what they described as Kaho'ohalahala's delay tactics, and that a verdict was needed in the case to help guide public officials in future disputes over council member residency. Plaintiffs also noted that their suit asked for Kaho'ohalahala to pay back salary and reimbursements he received from the county while serving as a council member, which they valued at more than $200,000.
A hearing has been set for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the courtroom of 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza.
Seventeen plaintiffs filed the suit in 2008, saying Kaho'ohalahala's term in the council's Lanai residency seat should be invalidated because he was not an actual resident of Lanai as required by law. Eight months after a trial on the suit concluded, Cardoza still has not released his verdict.
The Hawaii Supreme Court previously ruled in a separate case that Kaho'ohalahala was a resident of Lahaina in 2008. Last year, the state Board of Registration invalidated his Lanai voter registration for a second time, saying he was still a resident of Lahaina as of 2009.
In a filing dated April 28, attorney Benjamin Lowenthal said Kaho'ohalahala was seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed because the case had become moot.
Kaho'ohalahala "is now a private citizen who holds no public office," he noted.
"Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit to oust Mr. Kaho'ohalahala," Lowenthal said in the filing. "Mr. Kaho'ohalahala did not seek re-election to the Maui County Council and is no longer a public official. Protracted litigation is unnecessary at this point."
But in a response filed May 24, Honolulu attorney Ken Kupchak, who is representing the plaintiffs in the suit, said that his clients had done everything required of them by law to move the case forward, and it was not their fault that his two-year term expired before a judgment was handed down in the case.
"Dismissing this case as moot would be nothing less than validation of Kaho'ohalahala's delaying tactics and would encourage others whose residency is challenged to do the same, and provide them a blueprint for usurpation success," Kupchak wrote.
He noted that his clients had served their complaint within hours of Kaho'ohalahala taking office two years ago, and that trial in the case had been completed months before his term expired.
"The question of whether the law will be enforced sits squarely before this court," he wrote.
Kupchak also wrote that a determination in the case was of great public importance because other elected officials were likely to face similar challenges, and because it was possible Kaho'ohalahala, who has served previous terms on the Maui County Council and state House of Representatives could seek office again.
"It is not beyond reason to suggest that given Kaho'ohalahala's long career as a politician, he will continue to masquerade as a Lanai resident with little or no change of the facts if his repeated defense is not stricken," he wrote.
Finally, Kupchak said plaintiffs had asked not just for Kaho'ohalahala to be removed from office, but also for him to reimburse the county for his compensation as a council member.
But Lowenthal said the plaintiffs had no standing to force Kaho'ohalahala to reimburse the county for his council salary.
"Plaintiffs do not speak for the government," he wrote.
The 17 Lanai residents named as plaintiffs in the suit include Alberta S. DeJetley, John R. Dela Cruz, Deborah Yooko Dela Cruz, Laurie Ann Delima, Roy Y.H. Delima, Michael "Phoenix" Dupree, Garek Paul Eligado, Sheila A. Eligado, Reynold Masaji "Butch" Gima, Bruce Harvey, Jennifer Philomena Lichter, Ron McOmber, Phyllis McOmber, Sherri Mora, John W. Ornellas, Gail Reiner French, Neal S. Tamashiro, Tom Urpanil Jr. and Beverly Zigmond.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.