Column: Nix HART’s $300K plea for mainland criminal lawyers
Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation have been notoriously bad at taking care of taxpayer money while building the grossly over-budget Oahu rail line.
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Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the
Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation have been
notoriously bad at taking care of taxpayer money while building the grossly over-budget Oahu rail line.
Now they want more public funds for mainland lawyers to represent
“a handful” of unnamed HART officers and employees subpoenaed for interviews by a federal grand jury looking into what went wrong with Hawaii’s biggest public works project.
The Caldwell administration is asking the City Council for $300,000 to hire the San Francisco law firm Rosen Bien Galvan &Grunfeld, saying city attorneys lack experience in federal criminal proceedings.
This is in addition to an earlier $50,000 request for outside counsel to help the HART board evade a federal subpoena for full minutes of closed-door meetings where many of the wayward rail decisions were made.
The Council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee should send HART away with a firm “no” when it hears the request Tuesday.
The clear public interest is that HART directors and employees fully comply with federal law enforcers so we can get accountability on how the rail budget soared from $5.2 billion to the latest projection of $9.2 billion.
HART directors should promptly give the grand jury all documents requested and employees should be forthcoming in answering questions.
It doesn’t take high-priced legal expertise to advise HART officials to tell the truth, and the Council would only facilitate evasiveness by opening the lawyer spigot.
A Council refusal to throw good money after bad wouldn’t necessarily stop HART from hiring attorneys.
The agency’s 2019 budget includes
$3.75 million for legal expenses, and the Council provided $44 million in slush money HART claimed it didn’t need at the insistence of the Federal Transit Administration.
Technical concerns of city attorneys that those funds can’t go to legal expenses because the money comes from bonds aren’t a good reason to add hundreds of thousands more to rail costs by paying HART’s legal expenses from the city’s general
The Council should let the rail agency figure out the spending technicalities itself and avoid becoming complicit in legal dodges that run counter to the public’s interest of cooperation and transparency in responding to the federal subpoenas.
HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins wouldn’t identify the subpoenaed employees or say whether they include his predecessor, Dan Grabauskas, whose severance agreement requires HART to provide legal representation.
Robbins said the employees have been subpoenaed for informational interviews, not as subjects or targets of the investigation.
The funding resolution submitted to the Council says the San Francisco attorneys aren’t authorized to represent those “identified as subjects or targets of the investigation.”
So if they’re not targets, and the lawyers couldn’t represent them if they were, why can’t they just tell the truth without $300,000 of mainland legal advice?