West Hawai‘i Dedicates New Kona Courthouse

October 1, 2019, 4:21 PM HST (Updated October 1, 2019, 4:36 PM)
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Retired Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra, Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald and Gov. David Ige untie the ribbon after the new Kona courthouse was blessed on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, by Kahu Danny Akaka Jr. PC: Tiffany DeMasters

Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday morning outside the new Kona courthouse to celebrate its completion and join in dedicating the newly-finished project to the service of justice.

The $95.8 million Keahuolū Courthouse Kona Judiciary Complex was a vision 30 years in the making that came in on time and under budget. Local and state dignitaries joined the West Hawai‘i community for its dedication.

Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald spoke to a crowd gathered on the walkway in front of the building, saying the new courthouse represents a significant milestone for West Hawai‘i, as it will allow programs and justice to be more readily available.

“I can’t thank everybody enough who had a role in building this building — from (those) 30 years ago who started the dream, to the folks who put the last brick in the wall,” Recktenwald said. “I’m so grateful to everyone who put on a hard hat and boots and pounded this building out with care and professionalism.”

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The chief justice singled out retired 3rd Circuit Court Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra. It was Ibarra’s vision decades ago to construct a building that accommodated the needs of West Hawai‘i.

“As great as the courthouse is as a building, it’s about the people,” Recktenwald said. “It’s because they had a vision of justice in this community where we could provide services, where they could come and resolve their disputes in a peaceful manner.”

Ibarra recalled with the crowd his words at the groundbreaking for the courthouse in September of 2016: “It’s about time!”

“Today, I say ‘finally’ West Hawai‘i has a courthouse,” Ibarra said with a smile.

Keahuolū Courthouse Kona Judiciary Complex first floor security. PC: Tiffany DeMasters

Ibarra talked about how Kona’s 3rd Circuit Court had been located in the old Kona Hospital in Kealakekua, with the law library and self-help desk located in the morgue. There were regular security concerns with prisoners in transport being brought in through public walkways. There were also issues with a lack of parking for jurors, along with those coming to court. Sprawled in other locations were family court and drug court.

“They weren’t courthouses, they were make-shift to serve the Kona community,” Ibarra said.
“For decades, our judges and judiciary employees served in sub-standard conditions.”

Recktenwald surprised Ibarra by dedicating the Self-Help Center at the new courthouse as “Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra Self-Help Center.”

At 140,000 square feet, the new, three-story courthouse has five courtrooms with meeting rooms for attorneys and victim advocates on every floor. The building also has a footprint for future expansion and is LEED-certified.

“West Hawai‘i now has a courthouse it can be proud of,” Ibarra said. “It stands a symbol of democracy.”

Gov. David Ige was also present at the dedication, saying “we see first-hand the meaning of perseverance.”

Ige recalled being part of the discussion of a new Kona courthouse years ago when he served as chair of Ways and Means Committee in the Hawai‘i State Senate. Ibarra took him on a walkthrough of the three courthouse sites, where Ige saw what a challenge it was to administer justice in inadequate facilities.

“To think about the self-help desk in the morgue didn’t really resonate with me,” Ige said. He added after the ceremony that the new courthouse was a long time coming.

“It’s remarkable what the public servants provided this community in really poor facilities,” Ige continued.

Employees of the judiciary are just as excited about the building as their leaders. Judge Melvin Fujino said the new building provides access to justice.

Because of less direct contact with the public, Fusion said, there is less confusion and the facility is more secure. Deputy Prosecutor Mark Disher described the facilities as amazing.

“It garners the respect of the law that it deserves,” Disher said.

The ceremony included a performance by Kaulana Nā Pua ‘O Lili‘uokalani, under the direction of Kumu Hula Bernadette Pelena Keeling. The courthouse was also blessed by Kahu Danny Akaka Jr.

While the courthouse dedication took place Tuesday, operations at the facility actually began on Sept. 3, 2019.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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