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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 8, 2010

Kauai seeks to unseal payout

Advertiser Staff

Kaua'i County is asking a state judge to make public its portion of the legal settlement reached following the 2006 Kaloko dam disster, which killed seven people and caused widespread property damage.

The county yesterday announced it filed a petition to unseal the settlement and the appendix to the settlement to the four lawsuits.

The county said it wants the settlement unsealed to reveal how much money the county needs to pay the plaintiffs and the amount to be covered by insurance.

The move follows a request by The Advertiser last November to make public amounts owed by the state and Kaua'i County as part of a settlement.

A hearing on the county's request is scheduled for Jan. 19.

"We hope the global settlement of the Kaloko Reservoir lawsuits brings closure to those who lost loved ones, property owners who suffered damage, as well as to our island community," county attorney Alfred Castillo said in a statement released yesterday.

About 60 parties filed suit in the aftermath of the March 14, 2006, earthen dam break, including families of the seven people killed and owners of property damaged by the flood.

On Oct. 29, the parties agreed to settle out of court and to keep details of the settlement secret.

On Nov. 2, The Advertiser asked state Attorney General Mark Bennett to make public the amount the state agreed to pay, in accordance with the state's open records law.

The Advertiser also requested that Kaua'i County, which was also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, disclose its share of the settlement.

The state subsequently filed a motion on Dec. 21 asking Kaua'i Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe to allow the information to be released. Watanabe granted the request, saying that none of the parties to the lawsuit objected to the state revealing its share, which totaled $1.5 million of the $25 million global settlement.

The state must ask the Legislature for the money to pay its portion of the settlement.

Neither the distribution of settlement money to the plaintiffs nor the amounts paid by private defendants in the lawsuit are expected to be made public.

Attorney Jeff Portnoy, who represented The Advertiser, said there was no need for Kaua'i County to petition for a release of its settlement share.

"The county has seen that the state unsealed its share of the settlement," he said. "This is just more bureaucratic 'unnecessity.'

"(The settlement) should never have been sealed in the first place," Portnoy said. "It's critical that taxpayers understand where their tax dollars are going. Whenever there's a settlement for personal injury, the law is absolutely clear that the settlement numbers are public."

Other defendants in the case include: current and former owners of Ka Loko Dam and Reservoir, including retired auto dealer Jimmy Pflueger; engineering firms and contractors that did work in the area; insurance firms; and the irrigation company that distributed reservoir water to farmers.