A lawsuit filed by three former Hawaii Community College students last year, aimed at recovering hundreds of thousands of allegedly wrongfully collected student fees, is now set to be heard in May.
David Canning, Marieta Carino and Eric Aranug, all former student government leaders at the college, allege students were being charged for services that were not available. Hawaii Community College and the University of Hawaii at Hilo shared services such as a radio station, a campus center, recreation facilities and subscriptions to a student magazine until January 2013, when the two schools' student organizations parted ways. The lawsuit doesn’t specify what services students were without after the split.
A complaint filed in May 2015 in Hilo Circuit Court names the University of Hawaii as the defendant. It claims the university knew students were still being charged, but didn’t inform them. The plaintiffs said they requested financial documents several times but were denied, refused a refund and “publicly chastised, ridiculed, and/or humiliated” with "false and misleading accusations.”
The plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that Hawaii Community College students not only lacked access to some services but in some cases had to pay higher per-use fees on top of the student fees they already paid. Still, the college kept charging students the same fee rate - $67 per semester.
More than $3 million in allegedly fraudulently charged fees were collected between 2007 and 2014 from approximately 47,000 students, according to the lawsuit.
The former students seek damages and reimbursement of costs such as attorney fees, in amounts to be determined by the court. Peter Hsieh, an attorney for the students, said any reimbursed student fees would be returned directly to students who paid them.
Shortly after allegations first surfaced in May 2014, the University of Hawaii assigned an internal auditor to review fee misuse allegations but Hawaii Community College officials recently said the audit was never done and that the university's administration had reviewed collection and expenditures of the student fees and found "no indication of any misallocation or fraud."
University of Hawaii officials denied most of the lawsuit's allegations and filed a motion for judgment in January, which Hilo Circuit Judge Glenn Hara will hear on May 27.