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GINOWAN, Okinawa — Ginowan residents suing to end night flights from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma have asked the judge hearing the case to reconsider his previous ruling that the air base’s commanding officer must be sued separately from the Japanese government.

Judge Kyoji Ida ruled June 17 that suits against the defendants had to be separated. The residents’ lawyers said the decision weakened their contention that the base commander is just as liable as Japan’s government.

Ida indicated he based his ruling on the sharp difference between the roles of the Japanese government — which allows use of the developed urban land for an air base — and Marine Col. Richard Lueking, who as Futenma’s commanding officer determines the times and frequency of flights from the base. The judge set Sept. 16 as a date to rule on the suit against Lueking.

Lueking was named as a co-defendant in the suit 404 Ginowan residents filed in October 2002, claiming noise from base operations damaged their mental and physical health. They seek $5.51 million in compensation and a halt to all flights from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

However, Lueking has not appeared in court. U.S. officials contend that since the suit is against a person acting in an official capacity for the U.S. government, it is a lawsuit against the United States and should be filed through Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Lawyers for the Japanese government have argued that the suit should be dismissed because under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, flight schedules are at the U.S. military’s discretion.

But Yutaka Kato, one of the residents’ lawyers, said Wednesday they want the court to hear testimony from Lueking before the suit is split. Kato said the residents’ legal team has a list of 11 questions it wants to ask Lueking, including details of whatever measures may be taken in the future to reduce aircraft noise.

“It is only after the court hears his answers to our questions that a decision should be made about whether the commander is liable,” he said. “In any legal proceeding, a court would examine the realities before making a decision. Yet, in this case the court is about to make a decision” about Lueking’s liability “without examining the commander.”

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