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

aliiolani hale intermediate court of appeals supreme court
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The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we all do business here in Hawai?i, 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 Ali?i?iolani Hale when the Supreme Court conducts its oral arguments online. Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald told HPR they?ve 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 what?s taking place by broadcasting oral arguments on YouTube," the chief justice said.

Tomorrow?s proceedings will be live streamed on the Hawaii judiciary?s YouTube channel with the five justices and the parties? 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 Hawai?i 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 O?ahu.

"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 don?t have the resources to take advantage of what?s out there," she said.

A vast majority of the state?s 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.

"What?s 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. We?re very excited and we?re looking forward to how it goes," he said.

Oral arguments begin at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

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