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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, April 13, 2002

Judge orders unions to release records

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Hawai'i Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers must make their welfare benefit plan records available for audit, a state judge ruled Thursday.

The state attorney general's office sued the two unions last month to try to force the two unions to allow the state comptroller to audit their health, life, drug and dental insurance plans.

Circuit Court Judge Eden Hifo ordered the release of the records and ruled that there was compelling public interest in how public money that has been transferred to UPW and HGEA by the State Public Employees Health Fund has been spent, said Deputy Attorney General Hugh Jones, who filed the lawsuit.

"We're very pleased with her ruling," Jones said. "It's a victory for governmental accountability."

Hifo did not set a deadline to hand over records, Jones said, but he hoped the unions would comply with the court order within 10 business days.

Jones said the unions objected to the release of the records, citing an invasion of privacy and the invalidity of administration rules under which the audit was being conducted.

Eleven of 13 public worker unions have made their records available for audit or agreed to do so, Jones said.

The attorney general filed suit on March 15 and sought an injunction against HGEA and UPW because they refused to produce their records for audit.

The decision to conduct the audit followed a federal indictment in December against UPW leader Gary Rodrigues, who was accused of diverting health and dental plan monies for his own use and of accepting kickbacks from one of the benefit plan providers, according to the lawsuit.

Rodrigues is awaiting trial scheduled for later this year in federal court. Rodrigues could not be reached for comment.

HGEA executive director Russell Okata yesterday said he had yet to see the order but said "HGEA's position from the beginning is that we're cooperating and we'll make our books available."