HILO — A court hearing turned contentious Wednesday in a lawsuit by homeowners whose insurance claims for houses destroyed in last year’s Kilauea eruption were denied.
Blaine Rogers, a Honolulu attorney representing Lloyd’s of London, accused plaintiffs’ lawyers of misrepresenting required conferences.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Foster, a Kona attorney representing the plaintiffs — Philip and Lanell Haysmer, Audra and Scott Lane, and Susie Osborne, all of whom lost homes in Leilani Estates — said defense attorneys had stonewalled them.
Foster’s clients’ claims were denied by adjusters who cited a lava exclusion clause in their policies.
The defense had filed motions to strike the plaintiffs’ pretrial statements in all three cases and requested attorneys’ fees and court costs in the Osborne case.
Rogers argued the plaintiffs’ statements didn’t comply with court rules. He told Hilo Circuit Judge Henry Nakamoto a purported Oct. 31 meeting between Kirk Wood, an associate of Foster’s, and Lennes Omuro, another attorney representing Lloyd’s defendants, didn’t occur.
“One was requested but did not occur because Mr. Omuro was not available” Rogers said, after the initial hearing in the Haysmer case.
And Wayne Wagner, a colleague of Omuro’s who appeared via phone, told the judge, “It is simply a misrepresentation for plaintiffs’ counsel to say they conferred with me on Dec. 12, 2018.”
Wood responded by telling the judge he did speak to Omuro, who didn’t appear Wednesday, prior to the October hearing.
“I did let him know that we had other cases to file,” Wood said. “…I asked him to discuss it longer after the hearing. He wasn’t able to.”
Foster told Nakamoto he’s encountered “a consistent theme” from the defense, “and that’s, ‘We’ll get back to you.’”
“It’s the same type of delay and kick the can down the road and us, as attorneys, are getting the same treatment that our client has received in dealing with these particular defendants,” Foster said. “Your Honor, the problem is we don’t know what counsel is actually running this show for the defendants. … Who is lead counsel? … At the time of the Oct. 31 motion to dismiss, we knew the lead counsel was Mr. Omuro, because he was the only one who had appeared for all these defendants.
“What we’re dealing with here is this ‘Who’s on First?’ … We need to talk to someone, you know. It’s ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Who is out there making decisions for the defendants in these cases? We don’t know.”
Rogers, who conceded he isn’t lead counsel but didn’t go on record with who is, said it’s clear opposing lawyers didn’t confer in a substantive way Oct. 31.
“I think the court should take with a shaker of salt the contentions that, in any way, this delay … or the inability to resolve this somehow lies on the shoulder of the defendants,” he argued.
Nakamoto said he “agrees with the defense that the pretrial statement does not comply with the rule,” but didn’t order the statements stricken.
“I’ll give the plaintiffs 60 days to supplement that pretrial statement to see if they can comply with the rule. If it still does not comply, the court will again entertain such a motion to strike the complaint. And the court will reserve the right to attorneys’ fees and costs,” he said.
Foster asked that the identity of the defendants’ lead counsel be put on the record.
“You can discuss that with Mr. Rogers outside of the court,” the judge replied.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.