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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 1, 2006

Outsider may lead Kaloko inquiry

Associated Press

Members of Hawai'i's top law firms have been knocked out of the running for a spot as special investigator of the Kaloko Reservoir dam disaster, which may force the hiring of an out-of-state firm.

In a 16-page document reviewed by selection committee members during a public meeting yesterday, Attorney General Mark Bennett listed Hawai'i attorneys and firms disqualified for the position because they are involved in legal cases against the state.

Among the big firms whose members cannot be considered for the post are Cronin, Fried, Sekiya, Kekina & Fairbanks; Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, and Davis Levin Livingston Grande.

Selection committee members include Madeleine Austin, a Senate staff attorney and designee of Senate President Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawa), House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro, D-39th (Wahiawa), Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Hawai'i Kai), and Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who is the designee of House minority members.

Both Austin and Oshiro said resumes have already been received from out-of-state attorneys.

"So we may or may not find that we have to go out of town, given the volume of lawyers who are disqualified," Austin said.

The deadline to apply for the special investigator position is June 13. The committee will select five candidates with the final selection being made by Bennett.

On March 14, the Kaloko Reservoir dam broke, unleashing a wave of water that swept away seven people on the island's North Shore. Only three bodies were found.

The attorney general began an investigation into the dam failure shortly afterward.

But in response to calls from property owners, local residents and some legislators for an independent investigation of the disaster, lawmakers passed a resolution calling for a special deputy attorney general to launch a new inquiry.

Under the resolution, the special deputy would separately pursue the civil portion of the case, which could involve monetary liability for state agencies or land owners.

During yesterday's meeting, Carlisle also raised a concern over paying the special investigator and suggested that notifying candidates of the state's money limitations should be part of the screening process.

"Reasonable compensation, if you're coming from a large firm, is not the same thing as what the coffers or empty coffers of the attorney general basically would provide for it," he said.

While the state's budget allows for $150 to $200 per hour legal fees, it is not unusual for a Honolulu lawyer to seek $350 per hour, Austin said.

Some big firms, including on the Mainland, however, do have pro-bono or public-service programs that would allow them to take on the Kaloko case, she said.

The committee hopes to have its list of candidates completed by the end of June.