BY ROBERT THOMAS – Here’s the latest election law case from the Hawaii appellate courts. In Kawauchi v. David, No. CAAP-10-0000066 (Dec. 13, 2012), the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals held that the time deadlines in Haw. Rev. Stat. § 12-8 are mandatory, and that a constitutional challege to the Hawaii County Charter was not timely decided. The ruling emphasizes that in election cases under Hawaii law, the often-short repose periods must be followed precisely, even by courts, and even if the delay is the result of an understandable error. Failure to adhere to these deadlines will deprive a trial court of jurisdiction.
The case involved a challenge to the charter’s requirement that a candidate for public office be a resident of the district in which she intends to run for at least 90 days before the primary election. Section 12-8 establishes the procedures for challenging nomination papers and contains a 30-day repose period, including challenges by a county clerk to a candidate’s qualifications. The statute also gives the circuit courts a limited number of days to hold a hearing and make a decision after service of the summons, in this case, nine days. The court held that these time limits are mandatory, and when the statute says “shall,” it means “must” —
That the purpose of HRS § 12-8 is to permit prompt or timely resolution of challenges to candidates’ nomination papers, is supported by the context in which primary elections occur: the short time frames involved in elections; the time needed for election officials to prepare the primary ballots; and the unfairness to a candidate associated with having his or her nomination challenged but not resolved for an extended period, including possibly through the primary election itself. A mandatory reading of the judgment-filing deadline in HRS § 12-8(h) appears most consistent with the legislative intent. In fact, it appears necessary in order to ensure timely resolution prior to the primary election.
Slip op. at 18 (footnote omitted). The court held that the “Circuit Court failed to enter judgment within nine days after the service of the Complaint,” and that it didn’t matter that the delay was the result of the summons being issued in an improper form. Slip op. at 20-21.
The opinion goes into detail about how to calculate the time deadlines in election challenges, and provides a good roadmap to future cases.