Tuesday, September 24, 2002

State of Hawaii

Ezra alleges
conflict of interest
in Felix case

He asks the state's high court to settle
disputes about the attorney general

By Crystal Kua

U.S. District Judge David Ezra is asking the state Supreme Court to settle the question of whether the state Attorney General's Office has a conflict of interest in its many roles connected to the Felix consent decree.

"There is no question that the Attorney General's Office is pursuing multiple, directly conflicting interests including a criminal investigation of the Felix contracting process which may implicate the very executive department clients it represents," Ezra wrote in a Sept. 17 federal court-filed document that is the vehicle for sending the question to the state's highest court.

But Attorney General Earl Anzai maintained his position that his office has set up appropriate separation between divisions. Anzai said that sending the question to the Supreme Court is unnecessary.

"We've been doing this for years -- we represent the state government, and we've also taken criminal action against state employees," Anzai said yesterday.

The Attorney General's Office represents the governor and the departments of Education and Health in the lawsuit that led to the consent decree, the federal mandate to improve special-education services in Hawaii's public schools.

Deputy attorneys general also represent the Joint Senate-House Investigative Committee, which is scrutinizing state spending in complying with the consent decree.

That committee -- through different deputy attorneys general -- is seeking enforcement of a subpoena issued to Judith Schrag, a member of a panel that assisted the state in Felix compliance issues. The subpoena was thrown out by Ezra.

And the Attorney General's Office has been conducting a criminal probe into irregularities associated with services delivered under the consent decree.

Ezra said he is sending the question to the Supreme Court because he does not know whether it would allow the Attorney General's Office to represent "competing and contrary interests" in the same and related litigation.

While the Supreme Court ponders the question, Ezra has postponed any further action on two motions: one filed by the Felix plaintiffs attorneys, asking Ezra to find the state in contempt of court over the conflict-of-interest issue. The other motion was filed by the investigative committee and asks Ezra to reconsider its order quashing the subpoena issued to Schrag.

Because it is not known when the Supreme Court might rule, Ezra's stay on the committee's effort to subpoena Schrag could hamper the committee's ability to get her to appear, said state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, co-chairwoman of the investigative committee.

Hanabusa (D, Waianae) said that the multiple roles of the attorney general is inherent in the nature of government.

"I think the reason why is because government attorneys are not viewed as working for anyone in particular, so they represent the state of Hawaii or they represent the entities ... but that's because the ultimate beneficiaries of all of it are the taxpayers, the people," she said. "So that's why it's not the same situation as a regular attorney in private practice."

Plaintiffs' attorney Shelby Floyd could not be reached for comment yesterday, but the plaintiffs' attorneys have previously said they believe there is a conflict and the state should be sanctioned for that conflict.

State of Hawaii

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