City transit lawsuit dismissed in court
Communications Pacific had argued the procurement process was faulty
A Circuit Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against the city by a public relations firm over a $9.7 million contract to study a mass-transit system for Honolulu.
The lawsuit was filed in December by Communications Pacific Inc., which alleged the city violated state procurement laws when selecting a company to conduct the study.
The company alleged that two city officials directed Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas Inc., the primary contractor, to include Community Planning and Engineering Inc. as a subconsultant for the "public involvement" portion of the project although the company was not evaluated in the selection process. As a result, Communications Pacific's role as a subcontractor was reduced.
Community Planning is headed by Joe Pickard, a friend and political supporter of Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Communications Pacific attorney Terry Thomason said Circuit Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled on Wednesday there was no administrative or judicial remedy available for the firm to pursue under the state's procurement law.
"We're obviously disappointed in the ruling," Thomason said. "The court decided that there is not an avenue for Communications Pacific to assert what (it) feels is the injury it suffered."
Thomason said that the city argued that the procurement code had a very restricted and limited scope of remedies, "and in essence, subs don't have a remedy." Communications Pacific, however, argued it does have a remedy and wanted the case retained, he said.
The mayor, in announcing the dismissal, said he was pleased with the judge's ruling and pointed out that this is the second time Communications Pacific's allegations over the contract selection process were tossed out. The first was by the state Procurement Policy Board.
"I think it just really shows that the rail transit process from the beginning, the awarding of consultants' contract, was always above board. There was nothing shady about it," Hannemann said.
But company President Kitty Lagareta said neither of those decisions dealt with the heart of her complaint.
"Nobody has given me the answer I'm looking for. I'm looking for the answer to the question, Can you go through the procurement process, can you grade a company whether it's a sub or a prime contractor, award the bid and then swap out the subs?" Lagareta said.
Pickard countered, "It sounds like great PR spin coming from a public relations executive, and that's utterly ridiculous." He said that he believes the judge's ruling vindicates his company.
"What (the ruling) says was that Kitty Lagareta was wrong to bring those kinds of allegations against the administration and innocent people trying to do work in Honolulu," he said.
Lagareta said she is leaning toward appealing the court's decision but has not made a final decision.
"I think this is something worthy of an answer. I think if we're going to have a legal and transparent procurement process, this question needs to be answered. It's fundamental," Lagareta said.
Hannemann said he also believes that the latest decision will also bode well for the city in a pending federal transportation investigation into the contract process.
Councilman Charles Djou, who asked for the review by the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general, said he hopes the mayor is correct. "If the feds come back with the same review that the state courts have, I think that's fantastic."