to depose Cayetano
The state is trying to block aBy Rob Perez
bid to question the governor about
alleged political motives for its suit
Chevron Corp.wants Gov. Ben Cayetano to personally answer questions about the state's $2 billion antitrust lawsuit against the oil companies.
But the state's lawyers say no way.
A hearing on whether Cayetano will have to answer queries from Chevron attorneys has been scheduled for Oct. 4 before federal Magistrate Francis Yamashita.
Chevron apparently is seeking to test its notion that the lawsuit was politically motivated and was filed only to win voter support in Cayetano's 1998 re-election bid, the state says in federal court papers.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 1, 1998 -- about a month before the election. It alleges that the oil companies overcharged Hawaii consumers for gasoline for at least a decade, earning excessive profits. The companies have strongly denied the charges.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, Cayetano, a Democrat, was trailing in the polls. On Nov. 4, he narrowly beat Republican challenger Linda Lingle.
Chevron, the industry leader locally, recently notified the state that it intended to depose Cayetano, who was among a list of people the company wanted to question.
The state last week filed a motion asking the court to block the governor's deposition.
Chevron spokesman Albert Chee Jr. yesterday declined to say why the company sought to question Cayetano, only that such questioning was part of the process of building its defense. He said Chevron would file an answer to the state's motion later this week or next.
An attorney representing the state said Chevron's allegations of political motivation were way off base.
"That's completely inaccurate and a typical smoke screen that a liable defendant (creates) to confuse the issues," said L. Richard DeRobertis.
Star-Bulletin coverage of Hawaii's high gas prices was "a clear impetus" in the state's decision to pursue a possible lawsuit by seeking proposals from law firms, DeRobertis said. The Star-Bulletin showed that local pump prices barely budged for much of 1997 and 1998 despite dramatic drops in crude oil prices.
The state already has made available for questioning recently retired Deputy Attorney General Ted Clause, who was principally responsible for investigating the merits of a lawsuit before the October 1998 filing, according to the court papers.
The state also offered to make former Attorney General Margery Bronster available, have Cayetano answer written questions and revisit the issue of the governor's oral deposition after completion of the pretrial process of gathering evidence, the papers say.
The company refused the offer, according to the state.
The state maintains that high government officials have limited immunity from depositions so the officials can perform their jobs without undue influence.
The state also says the defendants have the burden of showing that exceptional circumstances require such a deposition and that no alternative is available to obtain information.
But questioning of three lesser officials and Cayetano's written deposition are alternatives that should be used first, the state says.