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Hawaii Supreme Court convenes on Maui

Maui high school students get a lesson in real justice with the Judiciary’s Courts in the Community event

Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Richard Pollack (from left), Associate Justice Paula Nakayama, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna and Associate Justice Michael Wilson listen as defense attorney Hayden Aluli makes his case Thursday in the Baldwin High School Auditorium. The case was heard on Maui as part of the Judiciary’s Courts in the Community outreach program. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — When the state Supreme Court convened in the Baldwin High School Auditorium on Thursday morning to hear arguments in a Molokai drunken-driving case, more than 500 high school students were in the audience.

“It was a really valuable experience to be able to see the process of the law, the debating between court justices and the attorneys,” said Baldwin High School senior Lily Engh.

Added fellow senior Lohea Kamau: “It was really a privilege for me to learn all this in just a couple of hours. I was very intrigued by it.”

The students had the chance to watch the oral arguments as part of the Judiciary’s Courts in the Community outreach program.

It was the second time the high court has convened on Maui, following a session, also at Baldwin High School, in December 2012.

Deputy Prosecutor Richard Minatoya addresses the Hawaii Supreme Court in the Baldwin Auditorium on Thursday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

State v George Fukuoka, the case before the court Thursday, stemmed from the Kaunakakai resident’s arrest on Oct. 28, 2014, on Molokai. In addition to operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, Fukuoka was charged with inattention to driving, reckless driving, duty upon striking an unattended vehicle or other property and lack of due care.

Various hearings were held to resolve a dispute over Fukuoka’s request for personnel and internal affairs files of four Maui Police Department officers involved in the case before an agreement was reached Feb. 20, 2015. Fukuoka’s trial was scheduled for March 24, 2015, then delayed until April 14, 2015, when he filed a motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, saying his right to a speedy trial within 180 days had been violated.

District Judge Kirstin Hamman, a per diem judge, dismissed the complaint without prejudice, allowing for Fukuoka to be prosecuted again.

Fukuoka appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which affirmed the District Court dismissal without prejudice. The appeals court rejected Fukuoka’s argument that the petty misdemeanor offenses he was charged with were not serious — one factor the court was required to consider in deciding whether to dismiss a case with or without prejudice.

In seeking a review by the Supreme Court, Fukuoka’s attorney Hayden Aluli raised the question of whether petty misdemeanor offenses are “serious” as a matter of law in the context of considering such dismissals.

Defense attorney Hayden Aluli argues a legal point before the Hawaii Supreme Court on Thursday in the case of State v George Fukuoka, a drunken driving case on Molokai. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

During his argument Thursday, Aluli said Fukuoka had been charged with three petty misdemeanor offenses and two violations.

“Why shouldn’t we consider the nature, the actual conduct and the kinds of interests that are affected by the conduct?” Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald asked Aluli. “Why is it bad policy to consider the facts?”

“The Legislature has already determined the gravity by the maximum punishment,” Aluli replied.

He said a conviction for DUI carries a maximum punishment of five days in jail.

Deputy Prosecutor Richard Minatoya said that, in setting the penalties for DUI, the Legislature was concerned that first-time offenders move quickly through the process to get treatment so they don’t reoffend.

Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna is interviewed by Maui High School journalism students Thursday after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments at Baldwin High School as part of the state Judiciary’s Courts in the Community outreach program. The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

“This offense is serious,” Minatoya said. “The Legislature actually decided to give up on some punishment in order to get these people through the system.”

In Fukuoka’s case, “allegedly there was a traffic collision resulting in property damage,” Minatoya said.

Referring to Aluli’s argument that petty misdemeanor offenses shouldn’t be considered serious, Recktenwald asked, “Why not a bright-line rule?”

“The problem with that is you have these offenses like OUI,” Minatoya said. “There is concern.”

Aluli asked to have Fukuoka’s case sent back to District Court and to have another judge determine whether the dismissal should be with or without prejudice.

Recktenwald said the court was taking the matter under advisement and “will be issuing its decision in a future time.”

After the session, some students had opinions about the seriousness of a DUI charge.

“I felt like it was a serious offense because it could injure more than yourself,” said Lahainaluna High School senior Antonio Bak. “I think it should be considered more than a petty crime.”

“It can cause harm not only to a driver but to property and other people,” said Gina Domingo, a senior at Baldwin High School.

Before Thursday’s court session, about 25 attorneys from the Maui County Bar Association volunteered to meet with high school social studies and political science students to provide information about the case. The attorneys ran moot court activities, with the students playing the parts of justices, the prosecutor and defense attorneys and making arguments for and against the issues in the case.

“They were really into it,” said Brandon Segal, president of the Maui County Bar Association. “You might have some future lawyers in our community on Maui.

“As attorneys, one of the most beneficial things we can do for our community is simply teach people how the justice system works,” he said. “Through Courts in the Community, students gain knowledge and experience that they will use as future leaders in society.”

As a deputy prosecutor, Segal said, “This is just a really good chance to talk to high school students about the consequences of drunk driving.”

Second Circuit Chief Judge Joseph Cardoza said thousands of high school students statewide have learned about the judicial system through the Courts in the Community program, which has the Supreme Court convene in schools twice a year.

“It takes the important work of the judicial branch of government into the community,” Cardoza said.

“That is a very special opportunity,” he said. “I think it means a great deal to the students.

“Many of the students are thinking about careers related to the law. You have students in this audience who, in all likelihood, will be active members contributing to our system of justice in many different ways — as lawyers, court personnel, probation officers, counselors, forensic experts.

“This paves the way for the next generation.”

After the first time the Supreme Court convened at Baldwin High School, Cardoza said he received comments about the program for years.

“It obviously was something that made a lasting impression on the students and the teachers,” he said. “It was great to have the students and teachers still engaged in it and talking about it some years later.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.