State agency is sued over TMT judge
By Timothy Hurley
June 11, 2016
“She says she will fight until “the complete record is revealed”
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources is being sued for withholding public records related to the hiring of retired Judge Riki May Amano as hearings officer of the upcoming Thirty Meter Telescope contested case hearing.
Aaron Wills, a consultant hired by Campbell Estate heiress Abigail Kawananakoa to obtain the records, filed the suit alleging the state is not producing the documents within the required 20 business days.
The records being withheld, according to the suit filed Thursday in Oahu Circuit Court, include the former Hawaii island circuit judge’s contract with the state and all other information about the hearings officer selection process.
Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, attorney for the Mauna Kea Hui petitioners, has also complained about the withholding of records in the case.
Kawananakoa said she has been collecting public records about the TMT and the astronomy operations on Mauna Kea for about a year and is preparing to launch a website that will act as a repository for all of the public records regarding the $1.4 million project planned near the summit of Hawaii’s tallest mountain.
“DLNR continues to ignore the law by withholding the public records regarding Amano,” she said in a statement. “We should learn from the rail fiasco that the truth will ultimately come out despite every effort to conceal.
“Could this be more disdain for a fair and open process or is there something revealing in these documents? It is time for the public to learn the truth regarding this situation and I will spare no expense in getting the entire record released,” she said.
Joshua Wisch, special assistant to state Attorney General Doug Chin, offered no comment Friday, saying he wasn’t even sure his office had been formally served with the complaint.
Earlier, Wisch said that Wurdeman had been advised in April that Amano’s contract amount, her hourly rate and the negotiated changes to the “General Conditions” of the March 31 contract would be disclosed as soon as the contested case hearing starts.
Amano has presided over one pre-conference hearing, and another will be held Friday to decide whether any more parties will be added to the proceeding. The formal start of the contested case hearing has yet to be scheduled.
The state Supreme Court invalidated the TMT construction permit in December and ordered a new contested case hearing. In its ruling, the court said the board erred in 2011 when it approved the project prior to holding the contested case hearing.
According to the suit, Wills submitted his records request April 8 and was given a redacted copy of the contract April 22. A deputy attorney general told Wills that disclosing the contract amount, hourly rate and other details would compromise the state’s bargaining position if the state is required to negotiate with the second- or third-ranked applicants, the complaint said.
After the Board of Land and Natural Resources reaffirmed Amano’s hiring June 3, Wills asked for the information again, but he was refused once more, the complaint said.
Wurdeman said he submitted requests for records from both the state attorney general’s office and Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case on April 1.
The documents requested included communications between the attorney general’s office and the University of Hawaii and TMT regarding Mauna Kea and the TMT project. A similar request was made of Case and any communications she might have had with UH and TMT.
“We recently reasserted our requests to include all communications between Chair Case and the governor and his office as no such communications and political pressure should be made from the governor’s office on the board chair,” he said in an email.
But only a portion of the communications were turned over last week, Wurdeman said.
“The delay in the required productions of records by both the state Attorney General’s Office and the BLNR chair is absolutely inexcusable, irresponsible, and it really raises a serious question about the reason for the stonewalling,” he said.
James Wright, attorney for Kawananakoa, said state attorneys under the administration of Gov. David Ige seemingly have taken the art of withholding public information to a new level.
“They’re breaking the law, and they think they can get away with it,” he said.
Kawananakoa, in her statement, vowed to continue her legal fight for documents “until we have received the assurance from DLNR that the complete record is revealed to the public.”
“The future of Mauna Kea has attracted worldwide attention,” she said. “If our state government will not obey its own laws, those failures will be known far beyond our islands’ shores.”
Source: Star Advetiser June 11, 2016