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Judge says Big Isle council violated Sunshine Law


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POSTED: Saturday, July 25, 2009

HILO » Members of the Hawaii County Council violated the state's open-government law by privately discussing a Council reorganization plan, a state judge said.

Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra issued a temporary restraining order on Thursday, forbidding the Council from doing business. But he delayed the start of the TRO until Aug. 5 to give the Council time to rectify the situation.

The Council has scheduled a special meeting for Aug. 4 to cancel the reorganization. It also plans to rehear all measures it considered after the June 16 changes went into effect.

Ibarra's decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed July 10 by West Hawaii Today. The newspaper alleged the private discussions constituted a violation of the Sunshine Law.

“;It is clear that a quorum of councilors discussed resolutions regarding selection of board officers pending before the board, prior to and outside of, the June 16, 2009, public meeting, in violation of (the state Sunshine Law),”; Ibarra said in the ruling.

Ibarra also found irreparable harm to the public's interest in government would occur if the injunction was not granted and that stopping the Council's actions protects the public's interest.

Robert Kim, attorney for the newspaper, said it was the first time in county history, and possibly the state, that a court stopped a legislative body from acting in its official capacity.

“;This is an historic ruling, that a judge saw fit to issue an injunction of a legislative body for violating the Sunshine Law,”; Kim said.

Council Chairman J Yoshimoto said he thought Council members recognized the seriousness of the charges and the ruling.

“;I think in light of the facts presented, the judge provided the Council the opportunity to rectify this,”; Yoshimoto said. “;I think the judge made the right ruling. It's a victory for everyone.”;