Wednesday, April 23, 2008
One win for Hawaii's Sunshine Law
It's somewhat unusual that anyone takes a government body to court because of violations of the Sunshine Law. In other words, to get a court to declare that a decision is illegal because the meeting was held in secret, or because secret (and hence illegal) communications took place, etc.
Maui attorney Lance Collins emailed today that he has achieved a win for his clients in just such a situation. Details follow.
Will this teach the errant Maui County Council a lesson? Will they resolve to follow the law in the future? Ha, ha, ha, that would be the best joke I've heard today, except they haven't said they would.
No, there's often a kind of almost childish rebellion that sets in when boards or councils are caught evading the law. You see, mostly they know they are doing it, but they think they can get away with thumbing their nose at the law because no one will take them to court, and who cares about OIP (Office of Information Practices) opinions anyway. Our Board of Education is a great example of this. They know and understand the Sunshine Law (open meetings, open records) but don't care if the violate it. But I digress.
Well, according to Collins' email, five residents of South Maui filed suit against the Maui County Council for a series of violations of Hawaii's sunshine law and won. This morning Judge Joseph Cardoza granted a motion for an injunction against the County of Maui. It seems that Council members exchanged all sorts of written memos among themselves instead of holding open meetings.
An injunction against what? I think the injunction stops the Wailea 670 Project. There seem to be details on that here, because on April 8 Maui's mayor signed two Council bills into law on the project, which is a master-planned, water-guzzling, golf/residential community. A whole section of Maui County code is revamped specifically to make the project possible, according to this short Pacific Business News article.
Probably this is a hot topic on Maui and I apologize for not being better informed about it.
But it feels good to have a judge take action against sunshine law violators. There's no jail time for it, though, so count on more and better-planned subterfuge in the future.
Good job, Lance.
Man, this Lance Collins dude is into some cool actions.
Somebody mentioned to me a few days ago that he might be interested in filing some appropo FOI's...
This is from dick Mayer and Maui tomorrow
"WAILEA 670 - Preliminary INJUNCTION GRANTED by Judge Cardoza
Attorney Lance Collins represented five individuals
who questioned whether the County Council acted properly
in holding a long succession of recessed meetings,
-- allowing the developer to make comments and participate,
but NOT allowing the general public to testify again.
Wednesday morning, April 23, Judge Cardoza agreed and issued a
preliminary injunction halting further action on Wailea 670."
The odd thing here is that the ruling seems to prevent a practice that the OIP has said is the proper loophole (if you will) to squelch testimony. Since the law says they must allow testimony on each agenda item, they simply recess the meeting until the next day or even week or however long rather than calling new meeting with a new agenda. The OIP actually recommended this method to the Kaua`i Council a few years back.
It’s a wonder more attorneys don’t file Sunshine cases since payment is guaranteed if you prevail and the law is to be liberally construed with a bias toward openness. . It could be a lucrative business but of course they would never get work for the corporate land use law firms again and that’s where the real money is.