Woman's testimony sought in Felix case
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
A special investigative committee of the Legislature will continue to try to bring a former federal court appointee before the group to testify a move that has already been quashed once by a federal judge.
This time, however, members of the investigative committee looking into spending on the Felix consent decree said they think they stand a good chance of being able to question Judith Schrag.
Schrag formerly worked with court monitor Ivor Groves, assisting state efforts to improve its services in special education. Hawai'i's special-education system has been under federal court oversight since the state signed the Felix consent decree in 1994, agreeing to improve services as required by law.
Legislators want to ask Schrag about her work on the technical assistance panel, which helped determine how the state would reach compliance and what benchmarks would have to be reached. They also want to ask her about a contract with the Columbus Educational Corp., which was hired to lure Mainland teachers to Hawai'i with packages of up to $112,000 to help fill the shortage. Schrag recommended the company.
But when the legislative committee subpoenaed her last year, Federal District Judge David Ezra said the committee could not force Schrag to testify because she is covered by quasi-judicial immunity.
The committee yesterday voted unanimously to ask its attorney to work with a federal magistrate and Schrag's attorney to agree on a meeting.
"It will be a matter of determining when and at what time," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, D-21st (Barbers Point, Makaha), co-chair of the committee.
Ezra's ruling to quash Schrag's subpoena was one in a series of skirmishes between the federal court, which is overseeing state efforts to improve the special-education system, and the Legislature, which is investigating allegations of misuse of money and conflicts of interest.
While Ezra has said the Legislature's investigation approaches obstruction of justice, legislators say they have an obligation to oversee how state money is spent.
Rep. Scott Saiki, D-20th (Kapahulu, Mo'ili'ili), committee co-chair, said Schrag and Groves are the only people involved who were with the Felix consent decree from the beginning and can answer certain questions about how the compliance benchmarks were designed.
Hanabusa said if the committee can question Schrag, it may eventually be able to question Groves.
"Let's start with Judith Schrag and see where we are," Hanabusa said.
While the legislative committee focused on the Department of Education during its work last year, Hanabusa said now it will likely turn to the Department of Health with questions on spending.
Reach Jennifer Hiller at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8084.