(CN) – Public trust funds in Hawaii can be used for the betterment of all citizens of the island state, not just for purposes related to natives, the 9th circuit ruled.
A group of native Hawaiians sued the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for spending money from a public trust that they argue should have only been used for the betterment of native Hawaiians, not the public as a whole. The agency used the funds to lobby for an act that would allow the U.S. government to participate in decisions concerning Hawaiian land and resources, a process that the natives argue should be independent of the federal government.
The funds also were used for legal, educational and social purposes that benefitted Hawaiians who were not necessarily native to the state.
The district court ruled that the agency had broad discretion to decide how to spend the money and had not breached its duty to the natives by spending it for the betterment of all Hawaiians, native or not.
A three-judge panel for the 9th Circuit agreed with the district court’s ruling and found that the agency, as a trustee to the fund, can spend the money at its discretion so long as it remains within a broad margin of purposes, as it did with its decisions to spend the funds on the betterment of the Hawaiian public as a whole through social propositions and legal purposes.
“Alleged violations of state laws regarding the management and disposition of (the) funds are not necessarily breaches, under federal law, of the trust itself,” Judge Raymond Fisher wrote for the Honolulu-based panel.