IN OUR VOICES for Thursday — March 09, 2006

• Outside counsel costly for county


Outside counsel costly for county

Yesterday’s Kaua’i County Council agenda was a doozie.

There were three items in a row, each requesting up to $100,000 for outside counsel to defend the county in three separate lawsuits.

The three lawsuits needing outside counsel as requested by county attorney Lani Nakazawa are: Clayton Arinaga v. County of Kaua’i; King C. Lum v. Kaua’i County Council; and County of Kaua’i, by its County Attorney Lani Nakazawa, Plaintiffs-Appellees v. Bryan J. Baptiste, Mayor, County of Kaua’i.

The items with a combined price tag of $300,000 were continued until the next week’s meeting as not enough council members were present at yesterday’s meeting to vote on major funding items.

If the possible expenditures are approved at the next meeting, it will be added to the growing sum of taxpayer money being spent on outside lawyers to defend the county of Kaua’i.

In late January, $100,000 was approved to defend the county against the whistleblower lawsuit filed by Kaua’i Police Department officer Darla Abbatiello. At that same late-January meeting, another $100,000 was approved to continue the employment of two attorneys to handle cases before the Kaua’i Board of Ethics. In February, the County Council approved another $100,000 to defend the county in a lawsuit involving a wrongful police raid on the ‘Oma’o home of Sharon and William McCulley.

The possible price tag in just the first months of 2006 may exceed half-a-million dollars, and may reach as much as $600,000.

Though some of the expenditures may be reasonable and necessary, it appears as if our county legal team is in over their heads.

In the lawsuit County of Kaua’i, Plaintiffs-Appellees v. Bryan J. Baptiste, Mayor, County of Kaua’i — better known as the Ohana Charter Amendment lawsuit — the county filed a lawsuit against itself to request a judicial declaration as to whether the Ohana Amendment Ordinance was constitutional. The voter-approved ordinance was found to not be constitutional as a result of that action.

Had it ended there the taxpayer bill would have been the initial expenditure authorization of $135,000. But a group of residents stepped in and requested an appeal that was granted to the Hawai’i Supreme Court.

Because the case has now reached the appeal stage, the extra $100,000 is being requested to deal with the motions filed and the appeal.

The county did not foresee the appeal and that is why the additional monies are needed.

Nakazawa said the Ohana Amendment case is not about real property tax reform, but about whether the charter amendment was constitutional.

How could the county not foresee the passion behind a voter- approved ordinance being struck down as unconstitutional by a lawsuit that the county filed against itself?

The residents behind the appeal come from organizations with names such as: the Reason Foundation, Americans For Tax Reform, Americans For Prosperity and National Taxpayers Union.

The county discovered through the process that the county charter does not allow the property tax cap to be instituted via ordinance, as was done with the Ohana Amendment.

The county could have taken another route, says Nakazawa. A request for declaratory judgment on behalf of the county would have reached the same result, but with a different mechanism.

Now the county is mired in an appeal, and if the decision is reversed in favor of the residents, it will go back to the lower court for a new trial.

The new trial will require more spending of our money.

And this is only one small part of one of the lawsuits the county is currently part of.

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