HILO, Hawaii — The Hawaii County Board of Ethics ruled that a prosecutor does not have a conflict of interest in cases involving protesters who were arrested as they blocked the construction of a giant telescope on land they consider sacred.
The board unanimously decided that Big Island prosecutor Mitch Roth does not have a conflict over his family’s employment connections to the Thirty Meter Telescope project, West Hawaii Today reported Thursday.
Although the ethics board found no conflict, member David Wiseman said Roth should withdraw from the cases “in the interest of prudence and maintaining the public’s confidence in the system of government.”
Roth’s son works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an employee of the California Institute of Technology.
Caltech is part of a group of universities in California and Canada that are among the partners planning to build the $1.4 billion telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea, a mountain some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.
Roth, who was last elected in 2016, previously said he was not aware of Caltech’s relationship with the telescope. He also said his wife’s employment at another Big Island telescope was not a conflict.
Roth asked for opinions from the county ethics board and the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
He turned over 30 cases to the state attorney general pending the board’s decision. Those arrested were charged with misdemeanor counts of obstructing a governmental operation.
While the land on Mauna Kea is controlled by the state, the county has the responsibility to prosecute cases there, Roth said.
He said flying in prosecutors from Honolulu to try the cases is expensive for the county and that he could give the cases to his chief deputy to avoid any interference.
“It was never the intent that I would go in court and prosecute these cases,” Roth said, noting that his office handles 17,000 cases per year. “I give my deputies a lot of discretion.”