Ethics Board dismisses complaint against Roth

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The county Board of Ethics on Tuesday officially dismissed a complaint against Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth, but several members are asking that the board get more authority to refer its own complaints to state boards such as the Ethics Commission and Campaign Spending Commission.

The county Board of Ethics on Tuesday officially dismissed a complaint against Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth, but several members are asking that the board get more authority to refer its own complaints to state boards such as the Ethics Commission and Campaign Spending Commission.

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The county board plans to discuss during its August meeting ways to change the county code or charter to allow such action.

At issue in the Roth case was a complaint filed by Ed Underwood, administrator of the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, alleging the prosecutor violated the ethics code when he supported a Kona boat captain’s allegations of unfair treatment.

The Ethics Board decided Roth had the constitutional right as an individual and the right granted in the county charter as a prosecuting attorney to address the Land Board about his concerns. The board said there was no proof Roth gained any unwarranted privilege or financial return from testifying.

It voted 3-0 Tuesday, with two abstentions, to dismiss the complaint.

But several members balked at advice from Deputy Corporation Counsel J Yoshimoto that the board couldn’t send its own letter to the state Ethics Commission, asking for it to look into Underwood’s use of state facilities and resources to lodge the complaint. Board member Rick Robinson characterized Underwood’s action as “retaliatory.”

“I feel it’s patently wrong that we have no ability to respond,” Robinson said. “I would like to see another opinion.”

Board member Ken Goodenow agreed. For example, if the Board of Ethics learned of state campaign violations in the course of an investigation into county issues, shouldn’t it be able to tell the appropriate board, he asked.

“Don’t we have a duty somewhat to pass it on?” he asked.

Not necessarily, according to Yoshimoto’s legal interpretation.

“This board is empowered to interpret the county code of ethics,” Yoshimoto said, adding that’s the extent of its power.

Neither Underwood nor Roth were at the meeting.

Underwood said in a text response on his personal phone he’s not sure at this time whether he will pursue his complaint.

“Not sure how filing an ethics complaint is retaliatory,” he said in response to a question. “The board member would be better able to explain.”

Roth said by phone afterward that he agreed Underwood’s action was retaliatory. He said the state attorney general’s office is still investigating DOBOR actions on the Big Island. The state office typically doesn’t comment about whether it’s investigating.

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“I just feel bad. Nobody deserves to be treated the way they treat people,” Roth said. “(The ethics complaint) was the only way they could retaliate against me.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.