Panel rejects outside lawyers for HART workers
A Honolulu City Council committee on Wednesday rejected a request for $300,000 in taxpayer money to be spent for private attorneys to represent employees of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, or HART.
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A Honolulu City Council committee on Wednesday rejected a request for $300,000 in taxpayer money to be spent for private
attorneys to represent employees of the Honolulu
Authority for Rapid Transportation, or HART.
HART is the agency tasked with building the city’s $9.2 billion rail project.
Federal investigators earlier this year issued three subpoenas to HART officials in connection with possible criminal wrongdoing at the agency. HART CEO and
Executive Director Andrew Robbins said earlier this month that several current HART employees have been subpoenaed but declined to say who the employees are, or even how many.
The HART employees who were subpoenaed asked city lawyers to assist them during the federal investigation, but the city’s legal team said it is not equipped to deal with federal criminal law matters.
The Council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee deadlocked 4-4 on Resolution 19-198, which would have approved the hiring of San Francisco-based law firm of Rosen Bien Galvan and Grunfeld LLP to provide legal counsel for HART, a “handful” of its current employees and possibly former HART employees. A tie means the resolution failed.
Committee Chairman Ron Menor was joined by Ikaika Anderson, Brandon Elefante and Joey Manahan in voting “yes.” Council members Carol Fukunaga, Kymberly Pine, Heidi Tsuneyoshi and Tommy Waters voted “no.” Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi was excused from the meeting.
Council members had previously urged HART officials to pay for the legal fees out of its own coffers, consisting of federal transit funds and state hotel and excise tax revenues. But HART officials said they’re barred from using those funds for hiring attorneys.
Menor called it “frustrating and disappointing” that the Council would be asked to provide funding for outside attorneys to assist in “responding to federal subpoenas that once again raise the issues of past mismanagement and failures of former HART officials.”
Nonetheless, he said, city attorneys have advised Council members that the Honolulu City Charter requires the Department
of Corporation Counsel,
the city’s legal team, to provide legal advice to employees for legal proceedings involving work they do for the city. But in this instance, Corporation Counsel said outside counsel should be hired because city attorneys deal only with civil matters, and not “federal criminal law.”
Pine said she was voting “no” because “it’s time to get rid of all the lawyers and let justice prevail.”
The project has run into significant cost overruns
because of “lies, misinformation, mismanagement (and) corruption,” Pine said. “It is time to give everything over to the Justice Department so that justice will prevail and that people who have cheated the
taxpayers finally go to
jail and be accountable
for their failures and their wasting of taxpayer money.”
Waters said he believes the city’s attorneys “are equipped to do the job,
that they can do the job and that they should do the job and not cost the taxpayers additional money.”
Robbins, after Wednesday’s vote, said he will go back to the city’s attorneys and determine how to proceed.
Rose Bien, the San Francisco law firm, is under
contract with the city’s
legal team already, but only as a consultant, Robbins said.