State Auditor Les Kondo and the state House special committee investigating him appear to be headed to court.
The House Investigative Committee has been holding hearings since Sept. 13 over Kondo’s handling of two separate critical audits of management of state lands by two agencies: the Agribusiness Development Corp. and the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Kondo has repeatedly pushed back in testimony and in writing, contending the committee’s investigation of his work and his office are improper and that the panel does not have legal access to internal Auditor’s Office “working papers.”
On Tuesday the committee issued new rounds of subpoenas and ordered Kondo to produce documents by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Some members of the committee also have been interviewing potential witnesses in private.
Kondo did not comply. Instead, he filed a motion in Circuit Court to allow him time to obtain outside counsel or to quash a long list of subpoenas for documents and for current and former staff to appear before the committee and testify under oath.
In his motion, Kondo repeated points he has made in response to the committee’s Sept. 29 subpoenas.
Kondo requested “sufficient time to secure counsel. … Furthermore, the disputed Subpoena Duces Tecum seeks to compel production of certain documents which are unrelated to the Committee’s stated — and therefore legal — purpose and include ‘working papers’ of the Office of the Auditor, which are confidential under Section 23-9.5 Hawaii Revised Statutes.”
Further, Kondo asserted, “As a consequence, the issuing parties are demanding that the Office of the Auditor violate the law of its own creation as well as the State Ethics Code, which prohibits current and former employees from disclosing information that, by law or practice, is not available to the public.”
Kondo formerly was head of the state Ethics Commission.
State Rep. Della Au Belatti — also a lawyer, like Kondo — chairs the state House Investigative Committee. The two have sparred repeatedly both in letters and during Kondo’s initial three days of testimony over his office’s handling of audits of the Agribusiness Development Corp. and DLNR’s Special Land and Development Fund.
“The Auditor’s response to our subpoena of Sept. 29, 2021, is puzzling because what we’re requesting of the Auditor are documents that are public documents,” Belatti told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser today. “It’s puzzling why he does not want to turn over those documents because they are connected to the SLDF and ADC audits. … These documents are intended for the public.”
Belatti said Kondo’s motion has not been assigned to a judge, and no hearing date has been scheduled. In the meantime, she said, the House committee’s members “will continue to do our work.”
Hearings are scheduled to resume Wednesday with another round of testimony from Suzanne Case, chairwoman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees DLNR.
Starting Wednesday, Belatti said, all witnesses will be ordered to testify in person at the state Capitol, with exceptions for medical reasons, and will continue to be subpoenaed to testify under oath.
The hearings are scheduled to wrap up late this month, followed by an expected release of an initial draft of the committee’s findings in November. A final report is due before January’s start of the next legislative session.