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NAHA, Okinawa — A ruling on a noise suit against the then-commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is expected in September after hearings in the case concluded in Fukuoka High Court here on Thursday.

The suit began in November 2003 when residents of nearby Ginowan sued the Japanese government and Richard Lueking, now retired but then the Marine colonel commanding the air station. It marked the first time a U.S. military officer was named as a defendant in a legal action stemming from noise complaints against U.S. military bases.

A lower court ruling in 2004 decreed that suits against the two defendants had to be separated and that the lawsuit against Leuking should be dismissed because he was not liable for the noise. The case against the government still pends in Naha District Court but in September 2004, 10 residents appealed dismissing the case against Leuking. They seek 15.7 million yen (about $139,000) compensation for mental and physical damages.

Thursday’s court session concluded hearings on their appeal. “There are reasonable grounds for questioning the individual’s responsibility,” argued Tsutomu Arakaki, the plaintiffs’ chief lawyer. “He was in a position with the authority to restrict such unlawful aircraft noise.”

No representatives for the defense appeared present at Thursday’s hearing and comments from the Marine Corps were not immediately available. However, in the lower-court case, U.S. officials contended that because the person being sued was acting in an official capacity for the U.S. government, according to the U.S.-Japan status of forces agreement, the proper defendant should be the Japanese government and any claims should be made through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Arakaki contended that the status of forces agreement does not exclude a servicemember from facing a trial for a matter arising from the performance of his or her duty.

“All it said is that such an individual shall not be subject to any proceedings for the enforcement of any judgment given against him or her,” he said.

Before wrapping up the brief session, which lasted less than half an hour, defense lawyers asked the three-judge panel to make a legal interpretation for the clause.

“I ask the court to thoroughly review the point of the appeal and hand down a ruling to order the defendant to pay for damages,” asked Yutaka Kato, another lawyer for the residents.

The ruling is set for Sept. 22.


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