Maui man behind Hawaiian language debate fails to appear in court

Local News

A man who refused to speak English in court was due back in court Wednesday.

But Samuel Kaeo didn’t show up.

According to Judge Kelsey Kawano, several notices were sent to Kaeo regarding his court date, but it appears he never received them.

“According to the records and files, the defendant has not received notice of his requirement to be in court,” Kawano said. “The court will instruct the prosecuting attorney’s office to issue a penal summons, have that served upon the defendant, and we’ll set this for three weeks to have that service done.”

Kaeo was arrested in connection with a protest last year on Haleakala and was supposed to have a bench trial.

Although he can speak both English and Hawaiian, he requested a Hawaiian language interpreter and refused to address the judge in English.

“I’m going to give you another opportunity, Mr. Kaeo, to just identify yourself just so the record is clear. I’m going to ask you one last time, is your name Samuel Kaeo?” Judge Blaine Kobayashi asked on Jan. 24.

Kaeo’s Hawaiian responses led Kobayashi to issue a bench warrant for his arrest. Kobayashi’s reasoning: “The court is unable to get a definitive determination for the record that the defendant seated in court is Mr. Samuel Kaeo.”

The warrant was recalled the following day, but sparked much debate over the acceptance and use of the Hawaiian language in court, and whether it should have been handled differently.

“We have to put this in context. As a Hawaii person representing myself on a criminal issue due to fighting on behalf of the rights of Hawaiian people and using Hawaiian language is the best way to express that this is a Hawaiian issue and that being taken away for me,” Kaeo previously explained to KHON2. “I will continue to demand through my words that I’ll be recognized as a human being, that we as Hawaiians have a right for the human right to speak our language.”

That Friday, Jan. 26, the Hawaii State Judiciary announced a new Hawaiian language interpreter policy that said, “The Judiciary will provide or permit qualified Hawaiian language interpreters to the extent reasonably possible when parties in courtroom proceedings choose to express themselves through the Hawaiian language.”

An interpreter was present in court Wednesday, and will be at Kaeo’s next court date as well.

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