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Arrest warrant recalled for man who refused to address Maui judge in English

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WAILUKU, Hawaii -

Speaking Hawaiian inside a Maui courtroom could have landed a Kula man behind bars. Trial for a Haleakala telescope protester was scheduled to start at District Court in Wailuku Wednesday morning but it didn't get very far.

Fifty-one-year-old defendant Samuel Kaleikoa Kaeo identified he was present in court, speaking Hawaiian instead of English. When presiding Judge Blaine Kobayashi told Kaeo he couldn't understand him, Kaeo continued to speak in his native tongue. The judge refused to recognize Kaeo's presence in court and issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

On Thursday, the Hawaii State Judiciary dropped the arrest warrant.  Judge Kobayashi issued an order recalling the bench warrant.  Also, a hearing has been scheduled regarding the use of a Hawaiian language interpreter.  The Judiciary will be reviewing its policies regarding the provision of Hawaiian language interpreters.

According to court records, Kaeo was granted a Hawaiian language translator more than a dozen times for past petty misdemeanor proceedings. Kaeo is able to speak English, and in this case, the judge ordered the trial to be held in English and did not provide a translator.

"It's really unfortunate. If I spoke Spanish, if I spoke Filipino or Japanese, they would provide an interpreter," Kaeo said.

When court was dismissed, Kaeo's supporters shouted and expressed disapproval with the ruling inside the packed courtroom.  

"It's a tragedy. But it's also important, it wakes people up that really think Hawaii has a sense of equality. You would think Native Hawaiians would have some sense of humanity in this place, knowing the history. Knowing the struggles," Kaeo exclaimed.

Protestors in favor of Kaeo filled the court's hallways and exterior with signs and songs. Keiki who attend Hawaiian language immersion program Punana Leo lined the hallways, as well. Some of the children's parents who were there were in shock. Among them, Kumu Hula Napua Greig who tearfully expressed her frustration during a Facebook live stream.

"I can't even believe that this is happening today. I can't even believe it. Why do we educate our kids in our native language if they won't even be allowed to defend themselves," said Greig.

Along with English, Hawaiian, is an official language of the State of Hawai'i. The Hawai'i State Judiciary told Island News there is no legal requirement to provide Hawaiian language interpreters to court participants who speak English.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamana'opono Crabbe released this statement:

Punishing Native Hawaiians for speaking our native language invokes a disturbing era in Hawai'i’s history when ‘Olelo Hawai'i was prohibited in schools, a form of cultural suppression that substantially contributed to the near extinction of the Hawaiian language.

 Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation's Executive Director Moses Haia couldn't believe what took place.

"This is Hawaii. Where else is someone able to be Hawaiian if you can't be Hawaiian in Hawaii? That's a sad state of affairs," Haia told Island News.

Civil defense attorney Eric Seitz was appalled by what went down in court.

"There's absolutely no reason I can think of that the judge should not have allowed that. I just think that it sets a terrible toll and sets a terrible precedent for a representative of the judiciary to tell a Hawaiian speaker that you can't speak in your language," Seitz said. 

Lawmakers react

The matter sparked outrage and also frustrated lawmakers like Representative Andria Tupola. She expressed her disapproval in Hawaiian on Facebook. 

"The judge pretended that he couldn't hear and then the clerks played along and then the prosecutors played along, we don't go to the courts to put on a show, it's not for theatrics, it is for justice," Tupola also said in the video. 

Maui Representative Kaniela Ing says he will be pushing for stronger legislation for a Hawaiian language interpreter in court.

"This opens up old wounds because my grandparents were punished for speaking Olelo Hawaii, the Hawaiian language and to think that in 2018, folks are still being criminalized for speaking Hawaiian," Ing said. 

Along with Judge Kobayashi's retraction Thursday morning, Kaeo gets a hearing on having an interpreter. The state judiciary will also be reviewing its policies on providing Hawaiian language interpreters. 

State senators Kalani English and Brickwood Galuteria agree with today's revisions.

Both were disappointed with what happened in court and support the resurgence of the Hawaiian language- daily agenda in the Senate in conducted in both Hawaiian and English.  

"Recognizing that in order for a language to live again, it has to be used in every day contacts including government," English said. 

"I think going forward. Everybody is now on the same page that this is Hawaii, we should do as much things in Hawaiian as possible," Galuteria said.