Tuesday, June 18, 2002

Harris likely
to withdraw 2 suits

He accused the chief of
the state Campaign Spending
Commission of discrimination

By Rick Daysog

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris probably will drop two federal-court lawsuits against the state Campaign Spending Commission and Executive Director Robert Watada.

Harris and his campaign reached an agreement with the commission last week to dismiss one of the lawsuits, which alleged that Watada abused his office and discriminated against his campaign, said Jim Bickerton, the commission's attorney.

Bickerton and Harris' attorneys are also working out the details of an agreement to dismiss a separate lawsuit that challenged the commission's February complaint that Harris improperly raised $100,000 on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.

The dismissals were widely anticipated after Harris announced last month that he would not run for governor in the November election. Harris, then the Democratic front-runner, said he did not believe he could win after polls placed him 22 percentage points behind Republican front-runner Linda Lingle.

"This confirms our view that this case is simply a political maneuver. Now that other political maneuvers have been called off, this one is being called off, too," Bickerton said.

"We're disappointed that these false allegations won't be publicly tested in court. We were confident that we would have prevailed."

Chris Parsons, an attorney for the Harris campaign, declined comment.

The agreements, which require federal court approval, call for the suits to be dismissed without prejudice, meaning that Harris can refile the suits, Bickerton said. Both sides also agreed to pay for their own legal costs.

However, the Harris campaign will not drop a formal complaint filed with the state Ethics Commission accusing Watada of improperly disclosing information about the commission's investigation into the Harris campaign.

Harris' first lawsuit, which was filed in February in U.S. District Court, also challenged state laws limiting the amounts that a donor could give to a campaign.

A contributor can donate no more than $4,000 to a mayoral candidate during a four-year election cycle and $6,000 to a gubernatorial candidate during a four-year period.

The second lawsuit, which alleged that the commission and Watada violated Harris' constitutional rights when they filed a complaint alleging that the mayor's campaign improperly raised $100,000 for the DNC, was dismissed earlier this year by U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway. The Harris campaign has appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Harris campaign was involved in a third lawsuit against the commission alleging that Watada improperly limited the amount of money that supporters of Harris' 2000 mayoral campaign could give to him for this year's gubernatorial race. A federal judge issued an injunction against the commission in March.

The Harris lawsuits were filed after the Campaign Spending Commission forwarded a complaint for criminal investigation to city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle in January. In that complaint the commission alleged that Harris' 2000 re-election campaign intentionally booked contributions under false names.

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