Recalled warrant sparks debate over use of Hawaiian language in court

Maui Now

UPDATE: On Friday, the Judiciary announced they established a Hawaiian Language Interpreter Policy (full text at the bottom of this story).

If you are interested in serving as a court interpreter, you can contact the Office on Equality and Access to the Courts at (808) 539-4860 for further information. Basic orientation workshops for court interpreters of all languages are scheduled across the State, and the deadline to register for them is January 31, 2018.

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.


The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation says a judge’s decision to issue a warrant for a Maui man’s arrest after he refused to speak English in court is “egregious and disturbing.”

The warrant for Samuel Kaeo was recalled Thursday morning, but what happened is raising questions about the acceptance and use of the Hawaiian language in court and whether it should have been handled differently.

Camille Kalama, an attorney with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, said Kaeo’s right to use the Hawaiian language in court wasn’t the biggest issue.

She said the real problem is that he was treated as if he were invisible, with the judge refusing to acknowledge he was there unless he spoke English.

Kaeo did not, so the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest.

“It was very baffling why it was treated this way, why it was handled in this manner,” Kalama said. “I think it was probably the most offensive way it could have been handled.”

It was especially upsetting because Kaeo was allowed to speak Hawaiian and was given a Hawaiian interpreter in the past.

“He had had at least two prior appearances before the court for arraignment and for a motion on whether he needed an interpreter or that the court needed an interpreter,” Kalama said.

Kalama said the problems in this case started last month.

“On Dec. 27, there was a hearing and at that hearing, there was scheduled be a Hawaiian interpreter and he was unable to make it that day,” she said. “Rather than continue the matter until the interpreter was available, the court went ahead and granted the motion to have a trial in English.”

In addition to the recall, the Hawaii State Judiciary scheduled a hearing regarding the use of a Hawaiian language interpreter.

But the question still remains: Why wasn’t Kaeo allowed to speak olelo Hawaii?

The original 1978 Constitution of the State of Hawaii, Article XV, Section 4 clearly states that the Hawaiian language is one of the official languages of the State of Hawaii.

Section 4.

 English and Hawaiian shall be the official languages of Hawaii, except that Hawaiian shall be required for public acts and transactions only as provided by law.

It’s in the constitution, but the wording is not clear.

“The constitution also says that it’s essentially not self-executing,” Kalama said. “It doesn’t mean that you get to use it wherever you want, whenever you want. So it is not on par with English, and it is still basically a second-class language.”

The Hawaii State Judiciary issued a statement Thursday that said: “The Judiciary will be reviewing its policies regarding the provision of Hawaiian language interpreters.”

Kaeo says he is pleased to hear the judiciary is moving in this direction.

“It’s a real big positive step. Hopefully they’ll try to come up with a plan and find ways to guarantee, provide the necessary tools so that no Hawaiian in the future would be turned away from defending themselves in criminal court or in civil court or be able to use the Hawaiian language if it’s desired,” he said.Video provided by Wendy Osher of Maui Now.


Judiciary Announces Hawaiian Language Interpreter Policy

HONOLULU – The Judiciary today announced the following policy regarding Hawaiian language interpreters during courtroom proceedings:

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.

The Judiciary will develop implementation procedures for this policy, and welcomes input from the community. Comments may be sent to pao@courts.hawaii.gov. Individuals who are interested in serving as a court interpreter should contact the Office on Equality and Access to the Courts at (808) 539-4860 for further information. Basic orientation workshops for court interpreters of all languages are scheduled across the State on the following dates and locations:

  • Oahu: Feb. 24-25 or March 24-25 at the Supreme Court Building in downtown Honolulu
  • Kauai: Feb. 13-14 at the Kauai Courthouse in Lihue
  • Maui: Feb. 28-March 1 at the Maui Driver Education Office in the Main Street Promenade Building
  • Hawaii Island (Kona): March 6-7 at the Kona Driver Education Office in the Kealakekua Business Plaza
  • Hawaii Island (Hilo): March 15-16 at the Hilo Courthouse

The deadline to register is January 31, 2018.

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