Veterans Fight On
Court hearing on lawsuit held.
A lawsuit filed by Molokai veterans against Maui County may be headed to federal court. The county filed a motion to dismiss the case in January, and arguments for and against dismissal of the vets’ complaints were heard by a federal court judge last Monday. A ruling on whether or not the veterans’ claims have legal merit is expected by the end of the month. A trial date is set for October 25 should the case move forward.
“We’re not looking for special treatment, we’re just looking for equal treatment,” said Larry Helm, commander of Molokai Veterans Caring for Veterans (MVCV). He has called the proceedings of the past five years a “wrongful permit process,” saying he and his fellow Molokai vets feel betrayed by the government.
The veterans’ complaints filed in the September 2010 lawsuit include constitutional due process and equal protection rights violations, as well as emotional distress as a result of the permit delays.
Both parties have tried to settle out of court, but so far those attempts have failed. MVCV proposed terms of settlement to the county, which came back with a counter offer two weeks ago.
While the terms cannot be disclosed, Helm said the county’s settlement offer could be likened to a slice of bread compared to the whole loaf, calling it “not even close” to the terms proposed by the veterans.
“Settlement is [now] in the veteran’s court,” said Jane Lovell, lawyer representing the county. “We are always willing to entertain settlement proposals but unfortunately our last offer was rejected.”
Mayor Alan Arakawa received veterans’ support during his campaign after he promised a speedy resolution to the building permit delays after the election. But Helm said Arakawa has yet to make good on that promise.
“We want to help and hopefully we can get this resolved but it’s under litigation,” said Zeke Kalua, executive assistant to the mayor. Because the veterans filed suit against the county, the matter is now in the hands of lawyers, according to county officials.
Mayor Arakawa has proposed $100,000 in the upcoming county budget for a sprinkler system for the veterans’ center, according to Kalua.
“We love the veterans. … I’m confident that we’re going to have agreement [settlement] soon,” he added.
But Molokai veterans doubt the county’s support.
“What you are doing is rubbing salt in the wounds of people who have already suffered so much,” Suki Halevi, attorney representing the veterans, told county council members. “My clients… are losing faith in this process.”
MVCV has been trying to build a veterans center in Kaunakakai for the past five years. The proposed 3,000 square foot facility would include a kitchen, meeting area, museum and space for VA services. The delays in obtaining the permit to build have been caused in part by concerns over sufficient water pressure at the site for fire protection.