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High court orders response to closed-proceeding petition

Action involves Grand Wailea contested case

The Hawaii Supreme Court found “probable cause” Friday for a petition filed by groups seeking to have the Maui Planning Commission reopen to the public contested case proceedings on Grand Wailea Resort’s expansion plans.

In ruling on the petition for the writ of mandamus, the high court ordered parties in the case, which include the Maui Planning Commission, Maui Planning Department and Grand Wailea owners, to respond in 10 days to the filing.

Attorney Lance Collins, representing Disappeared News, The Hawai’i Independent and Victor Gregor Limon, explained Friday that writs are generally dismissed by the high court. Only a handful are approved of the couple hundred that are filed each year. The last writ approved that Collins recalled involved reductions of inmates in Hawaii jails and prisons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Grand Wailea Maui, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is seeking to expand the resort by 151 rooms and add a parking garage, among other plans. The resort is seeking a special management permit from the Maui Planning Commission.

Three Native Hawaiian community groups, Malama Kakanilua, Hooponopono o Makena and Pele Defense Fund, were granted intervention in the proceedings. The commission appointed Maui attorney Linden Joesting as the hearings officer for the contested case proceeding.

On May 7, Joesting issued an order allowing proceedings to be closed to the public, the writ petitioners said in a news release May 21. The hearings officer said the proceedings should move forward regardless of the COVID-19 emergency or the stay-at-home orders.

Collins said three or four closed hearings have been held since then.

The plaintiffs filed the writ relying on First Amendment protections.

“For nearly four decades, the Maui Planning Commission has conducted contested case proceedings in the public view and open to the press. It remains a mystery why the commission feels this case should be protected from public scrutiny,” said journalist Victor Gregor Limon.

“This time of emergency does not justify government secrecy. The resort is certainly not entitled to have their permits fast-tracked behind closed doors, excluding the press and the general public,” said Collins.

Maui County Planning Director Michele McLean said Friday night that she did not have a chance to review the high court order and could not comment.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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