Ethics board: Prosecutor has no conflict in telescope cases

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.”

  1. harry oyama December 14, 2019 8:25 am Reply

    Maybe in their own delusion minds, the State thinks they have jurisdiction over Hawaiian affairs, but just recently two attorneys representing arrested native Hawaiians protesting their given right to these lands, now have put the State and Federal government on notice of War Crimes in their current actions against native Hawaiians since they never submitted to the illegal overthrow of their government based on UN’s international laws of sovereignty of which Hawaii was one of the nations that created the UN, so Hawaii at that time was a soveregn nation among other nations of equal status before the overthrow.

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