WAILUKU, Hawaii — A judge dropped an arrest warrant Thursday for a University of Hawaii professor who refused to respond in court to English and spoke Hawaiian instead.
Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo was in court Wednesday facing a trial for charges connected to his participation in a 2017 protest against the construction of a solar telescope on top of Haleakala, a volcano on Maui, Hawaii News Now reported .
When Judge Blaine Kobayashi asked Kaeo to confirm his identity, he repeatedly responded in Hawaiian instead of English.
Kobayashi said he couldn’t understand Kaeo and issued a warrant for Kaeo’s arrest, saying “the court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo.”
Kaeo, an associate professor of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii Maui College, said he has appeared before the judge before and complained that “it was about the fact that I was speaking Hawaiian that he didn’t like.”
Kobayashi recalled the bench warrant Thursday, the state Judiciary said in a statement. Judiciary spokesman Andrew Laurence declined to answer questions about the recall, including what prompted it.
Kaeo faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and obstructing a sidewalk.
Kaeo, who also speaks English, requested a Hawaiian interpreter in the courtroom but prosecutors had objected, saying it was an unnecessary expense that would have caused delays.
A hearing has been scheduled for his request, the Judiciary said.
In 1978, Hawaiian was recognized as an official language of Hawaii, along with English. However, court cases are primarily conducted in English, with interpreters provided for those who speak other languages.
The Hawaii State Judiciary said previously in a statement that there is no legal requirement “to provide Hawaiian language interpreters to court participants who speak English but prefer to speak in Hawaiian” and that judges can grant or deny the requests.
On Thursday, the Judiciary said it will be reviewing policies for providing Hawaiian language interpreters.
The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which is not representing Kaeo, said issuing the warrant was inexplicable, nonsensical and absurd. “The court essentially ignored Professor Kaeo’s physical presence based solely on his sincere desire to proceed and present his case in Hawaiian,” the corporation said in a statement.
The chief executive officer of the state’s Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamanaopono Crabbe, called the event an example of “punishing Native Hawaiians for speaking our native language.”
He said it was reminiscent of Hawaii’s past when Hawaiian “was prohibited in schools, a form of cultural suppression that substantially contributed to the near extinction of the Hawaiian language.”
According to the most recent Census data available for 2009-2013, 5.7 percent of the state’s residents spoke Hawaiian at home.
In 2016, a defendant representing himself against an obstruction charge after being arrested while protesting a giant telescope planned for another mountain, was found not guilty after being allowed to go to trial with a Hawaiian language interpreter. Kahookahi Kanuha cross-examined witnesses in Hawaiian. The interpreter translated the questions and the witnesses answered in English.
This version corrects the last name of Office of Hawaiian Affairs chief executive officer Crabbe, not Crabben, the last name of the judge, Kobayashi, not Kobayshi, and corrects the name of the news service, Hawaii News Now not Hawaii New Now.
Information from: KGMB-TV, http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/