Ka Loko prompting political posturing

State Attorney General Mark Bennett yesterday responded sharply to claims that Gov. Linda Lingle has used his office as a political tool.

Attorney Bill McCorriston in a news conference yesterday morning in Honolulu accused Lingle of abusing her power by misusing Bennett for political purposes and to advance her own agenda.

Regarding the deadly Ka Loko Reservoir Dam breach, Bennett is trying to cover up the criminal failures of the Lingle administration by attempting to place sole blame on the land owner, retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger, McCorriston said in a media advisory.

“Since the Ka Loko Dam tragedy occurred, I have led the state’s criminal investigation into this matter with one and only one goal: to determine whether criminal charges are legally and factually warranted and appropriate,” Bennett said in a statement. “That was the goal the day of the tragedy; that is still the goal.”

McCorriston called for an independent prosecutor to be appointed for the Ka Loko case.

“I have played no role in the civil case in this matter, and neither I nor the prosecutors also working on this case have any conflict of interest,” Bennett said. “I will not be dissuaded from doing my sworn duty as Hawai‘i’s chief law enforcement officer by desperate personal attacks or any other kind of attack.”

McCorriston also called on Lingle and Bennett to publicly state that Bennett will not be considered for a state Supreme Court position.

“It didn’t make any logical sense to me,” Bennett said in a phone interview, referring to McCorriston’s demand.

The attorney general said he is not applying for the vacancy created by Justice Steven Levinson, who recently announced his plans to retire at the end of the year.

When asked what may have prompted McCorriston to hold this news conference, Bennett said he would not publicly speculate as to the motivation for these personal attacks.

Ethical obligations prevented Bennett from making any comment on a possible grand jury related to the Ka Loko tragedy.

Seven people on the North Shore were killed when the century-old earthen dam breached on March 14, 2006, releasing some 300 million gallons of water.

Since the tragedy, Pflueger has been battling wrongful death lawsuits claiming he illegally altered the dam. Pflueger claims the state was negligent in its oversight of the dam.

The attorney general’s office reportedly convened a grand jury in July to gather evidence into the cause of the breach and recently subpoenaed former Kauai Mayor Maryanne Kusaka to testify.

The governor’s office did not respond to a request seeking comment.

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