Glass-bottle lanterns hang from the ceiling, but none of them are in use. Sunlight streams through open windows that have peeling paint and no screens. A gentle tradewind makes AC unnecessary, and carries the rhythmic sound of waves that lap at Hāna Bay. Leaves twist up between slats in the deck, a rock holds open the door, and the clerk collecting the fines — paid in cash — uses a pen and paper. The building itself hearkens back to the 1800s; its simple, single-walled construction was a popular nineteenth-century style.
Because the cases tried at the courthouse are usually for minor offenses, most are settled with a slap on the wrist, rather than wrists in handcuffs. A robe hangs in the corner, but the judge elects not to wear it, and of the ten people appearing before her, seven are wearing slippers and board shorts, and none are in collared shirts.
It almost feels like a social affair for this small, East Maui town, where everyone already knows everyone’s business — just now it’s being made public.
When a young man shows the insurance card he’d forgotten to keep in his car, a woman scolds him with a playful slap, despite the fact she’s up next. One man needs to pay $57, which he doles from his camouflaged wallet; and the judge lets another man off the hook after determining his headlight’s been fixed.
Even the old wooden jailhouse out back is shaded by plumeria and palms, and as Judge Adrianne Heely recounts to me, after court has adjourned, a deputy prosecutor once mentioned that “back in Wisconsin, this is exactly what I imagined Hawai‘i courts to be like.”
You can tour the courthouse as part of a visit to the neighboring Hāna Cultural Center, which is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — though no trials are held on those days. The cultural center also displays historic photos and ancient Hawaiian artifacts, as well as a replica of a pre-contact compound, all right next to the courthouse.