Friday, July 9, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Past budget action
may haunt nominee for
attorney general

By Mike Yuen


There is only one stumbling block big enough to prevent Earl Anzai from winning Senate confirmation as attorney general, says Gov. Ben Cayetano.

It's the argument that Anzai, ousted state budget director, disregarded an attorney general's opinion pertaining to budget restrictions, Cayetano said yesterday.

But Cayetano believes that hurdle can be overcome. And Anzai insists that he did not step outside the law.

Yet when Anzai testified before the Senate Ways and Means Committee in late April on his unsuccessful bid for a second four-year term as budget chief, he said he either forgot about or ignored the legal opinion against using spending restrictions to balance the budget.

Anzai later sent a memo to the panel clarifying his answer. He acknowledged that restrictions were proposed for fiscal 2000-01, "but primarily to reflect our planned commitment to phasing in program reductions over the biennium. The financial plan and budget, as submitted, balances without the restrictions. As a result, the restrictions enhance an already 'balanced' budget."

Still, a number of senators believe that Anzai, a University of Hawaii law school graduate, thumbed his nose at legal restrictions when the administration's financial plan was crafted.

"He's got to change and show more respect for the law than he has in the past," said Sen. Jonathan Chun (D, Lihue).

Senate Republican leader Whitney Anderson of Kailua added: "How can you have an attorney general who says he's going to ignore the laws? That makes me skeptical that the governor really believes that (Anzai) would do a fair and just job for the people of Hawaii."

Other doubts also shadow Anzai's fitness to be the state's chief legal officer:

Bullet That he was not forthcoming and even misled lawmakers about the administration's financial plan.

Bullet That his longtime friendship with Cayetano will prevent him from being an independent attorney general.

Bullet That he has a conflict of interest because his wife, Lyn Anzai, once worked as an attorney for the Bishop Estate, which is under investigation by the attorney general's office.

Anzai denies that he misled lawmakers.

Sen. Rod Tam (D, Pauoa), said while he is also open to Anzai's selection, he is concerned that Anzai "will be more the governor's attorney general and not the people's attorney general" because of their long friendship.

Anzai's rebuttal: "It doesn't serve me or (Cayetano) well if I just agree to what he wants."

Cayetano added: "One reason why we are good friends is because we are both independent people. His master is not yours truly. Earl is not your 'yes man.' "

When he was budget chief, Anzai once told lawmakers that he wanted to eliminate positions that had gone unfilled for a long time. But Cayetano overruled him, believing it was better to give departments hiring flexibility by keeping the unfilled positions on the books.

Dan Mollway, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said Anzai's wife having once been an in-house attorney for the Bishop Estate doesn't put Anzai afoul of state ethics laws. Since Anzai's wife is no longer employed by the estate, the element needed for a conflict -- a financial interest -- is no longer at stake, Mollway said.

Anzai said he is still awaiting word from the Judiciary's Office of Disciplinary Counsel as to whether he, as attorney general-select, can take action on any Bishop Estate matter, which is the result of his wife's legal work.

Anzai's confirmation, Cayetano said, should not hinge on his demeanor, which has been described as no-nonsense, brutally frank and even arrogant.

"Some people don't like his personality," Cayetano said. "Well, you know, Earl and I have the same problem. But that's not the key factor on which a confirmation should turn."

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