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House Finance cuts courthouse funds

March 6, 2014 - 12:05am

The House Finance committee cut $50 million out of the funding request for a new Kona Judiciary Complex Wednesday afternoon.

Judiciary officials had requested $81 million, the amount needed to build the long-sought complex in North Kona, which would combine services now happening at three separate courts.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Sylvia Luke, D-Punchbowl, announced the change to authorize $31 million during the hearing, prior to a unanimous affirmative vote. Two Hawaii Island representatives, Kona’s Nicole Lowen and East Hawaii’s Richard Onishi, sit on the committee.

Lowen said the vote was good news, “now we have to work on the Senate to put in their share.”

“This will be a continued discussion as we go along in the session,” Luke said. “We did want to make a large commitment.”

If this version of the bill is passed by both houses, it will leave the courthouse project with $40 million of the $90 million needed to complete it.

West Hawaii Bar Association President Robert Kim and Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth attended Wednesday’s hearing to ask legislators to fund the full amount. The courthouses are “substandard,” Roth said.

Roth also referenced an incident Tuesday between a juror and an attorney that highlighted some of the safety issues at the court.

Kim noted the incident lasted about an hour and had broader implications for the trial that was happening at the time.

“It led to the removal of that juror because it might have caused a mistrial,” Kim told legislators.

Kona is the last judiciary site to be updated, he said, and attorneys, judges, court staff and West Hawaii residents have been waiting decades for a consolidated courthouse.

The Finance Committee toured West Hawaii’s courthouses several months ago.