Attorney continues seeking sanctions against council members

  • Zendo Kern

Although Charles Heaukulani was unsuccessful getting a court to stop the County Council’s Feb. 3 confirmation vote of Planning Director Zendo Kern, the Hilo attorney is pursuing his lawsuit alleging Sunshine Law violations by the council during committee-level deliberations.

Heaukulani, who favored Kern’s nomination, filed an amended complaint in the lawsuit Wednesday, asking the court to make a judicial finding that the Sunshine Law, which requires council business take place in public, was violated by at least three council members.

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“I think that this was an orchestrated effort to avoid the Sunshine Law,” Heaukulani said Thursday. “If I can prove that this was a knowing and intentional violation of the Sunshine Law, then I’m going to ask that the prosecutor prosecute them.”

Heaukulani alleges in the lawsuit that three council members — Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David — while participating from the West Hawaii Civic Center, turned off their microphones and held conversations among themselves during the confirmation hearing. In addition, he said, those three council members may have exchanged text messages with Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who was in the Hilo council chambers.

Sunshine Law violations are misdemeanors. In addition, courts in the past have required the County Council to retake votes following allegations the law has been violated, as occurred in a 2009 settlement agreement after West Hawaii Today sued the County Council.

Heaukulani isn’t asking the court to order a redo. In fact, he’d rather it didn’t. Although Kern’s nomination appeared headed for defeat after a 4-5 council Planning Committee vote, the subsequent vote at the council turned out to be 5-4, securing his confirmation, after Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball switched her vote.

“Given the outcome of the subsequent voting, however, we are not, through this legal action, seeking to set aside the outcome of either vote,” the amended complaint states. “That these individuals clearly violated the Sunshine Law is not to be ignored simply because five members ultimately did what was in the best interest of our Island.”

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The county has 20 days to respond to the complaint. Assistant Corporation Counsel Laureen Martin declined comment on the case Thursday.

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

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