Hawaii Supreme Court To Hear Historic Remote Arguments In Maui Water Case

May 4, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we all do business here in Hawaiʻi, the state Supreme Court included.

Tomorrow justices will – for the first time in history – hear oral arguments remotely with the use of video conferencing technology.

Courtoom doors will be closed and seats empty at Aliʻiʻiolani Hale when the Supreme Court conducts its oral arguments online. Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald told HPR theyʻve been experimenting with technology like Zoom and WebEx to find the right fit.

"The idea is to ensure the safety of the public and court users by not bringing people together in a confined space for oral arguments but at the same time ensuring the public has access to whatʻs taking place by broadcasting oral arguments on YouTube," the chief justice said.

Tomorrowʻs proceedings will be live streamed on the Hawaii judiciaryʻs YouTube channel with the five justices and the partiesʻ attorneys participating from separate locations.

The Carmichael v. Board of Land and Natural Resources case involves a decades-long battle over water flowing from the East Maui mountains. 

Summer Sylva, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., represents Maui taro farmers in the case against the State of Hawaiʻi and former plantation owner Alexander and Baldwin. 

Oral arguments in the case were initially set for late March. The case has roots that go back for more than a century.  

Sylva says the use of live stream technology will make court proceedings more convenient for some of her clients, who may not have the resources to fly to Oʻahu.

"I think really lends itself to this idea of making access to justice available to more people in the community, particularly those who are marginalized or donʻt have the resources to take advantage of whatʻs out there," she said.

A vast majority of the stateʻs court proceedings have been postponed since early March amid the coronavirus pandemic. Chief Justice Recktenwald says until COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, future oral arguments are expected to be held remotely.

"Whatʻs happening here in the Supreme Court is part of a larger effort across the judiciary to use remote video conferencing technology to be able to conduct hearings. Weʻre very excited and weʻre looking forward to how it goes," he said.

Oral arguments begin at 10 a.m. tomorrow.