HONOLULU (AP) - The Office of Hawaiian Affairs can keep spending trust funds on programs that aid people with any amount of Native Hawaiian blood, the state Supreme Court ruled.
The high court ruling Tuesday upholds the dismissal of a lawsuit that argued it's improper for the office to spend money on people who are less than 50 percent Native Hawaiian, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
OHA argued that trustees have the discretion under trust law to decide how to benefit all Hawaiians.
"This ruling is important validation for our efforts to improve conditions for Hawaiians," said OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamanaopono Crabbe. "In our experience, favorable rulings don't benefit only one class of Hawaiians but benefit everyone."
The lawsuit by Samuel Kealoha and four others maintained that OHA spending diminishes money available for those who are at least 50 percent Hawaiian.
The lawsuit challenged OHA funding for federal Native Hawaiian recognition lobbying and for programs including the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. and Alu Like Inc.'s social services program. Under the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, people who are at least 50 percent Hawaiian can qualify for homelands.
Walter Schoettle, attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment on the ruling but told the newspaper he's considering options.
The ruling upholds a circuit court judge's dismissal last year. A federal appeals court upheld a similar decision in 2010.
"This issue has now been decided in both state and federal court," said OHA Chairwoman Colette Machado.
The unanimous, 49-page opinion was written by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald. The court heard oral arguments in the case in May.
"This is a landmark decision," Machado said. "This is a great day for all Hawaiians."