Friday, January 25, 2002

Felix panel welcomes
outside investigation

Judge Ezra suggests having federal
or city prosecutors look into the panel's allegations

By Crystal Kua

Leaders of the joint Senate-House committee scrutinizing spending for the Felix consent decree are welcoming a federal judge's plan to ask prosecutors if allegations raised in a committee report involve criminal wrongdoing.

"We're pleasantly surprised," Rep. Scott Saiki (D, McCully) said. "We're glad to see that the court believes that these matters need to be looked into."

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae) said she hopes that any probe would also look at parties the investigative committee was unable to reach, including the federal court monitor and his associates.

"We welcome the referral, and we hope they're going to have to face less resistance in terms of getting to critical parties in the consent decree," Hanabusa said. "I believe the U.S. attorney's office will effectively and properly investigate it, if it gets to them."

The committee's report recommended that the state Attorney General's Office review the concerns about potential criminal conduct and other wrongdoing raised in the report, involving private provider contracts, billings and fees, and alleged conflicts of interest.

But U.S. District Judge David Ezra questioned yesterday whether the Attorney General's Office itself might have a conflict of interest in the "multiple roles" it plays in connection with the consent decree, which mandates improvements in special-education services.

The Attorney General's Office represents the governor and the state Health and Education departments in the consent decree lawsuit. It also represents the legislative committee in its efforts to enforce subpoenas issued to Felix court monitor Ivor Groves and others appointed by the court to assist the state in coming into compliance. Ezra threw out the subpoenas.

Ezra said yesterday that the allegations contained in the committee's report are so "sensational" that an independent body should look into them.

Having the U.S. Justice Department or the city prosecutor involved would take the investigation out of the "political arena" during an election year, Ezra said.

The independent review would also boost public confidence in the process and provide for the protection of constitutional rights, he said.

But Attorney General Earl Anzai said he believes his office can carry on with its review of the committee's findings.

"I don't see a problem at all, considering the procedural built-in protections," Anzai said.

Hanabusa and Saiki said they also believe the office can continue its work.

"The Attorney General's Office has screened off their deputies so that they wouldn't have a conflict," Saiki said.

Saiki said the office's criminal investigation and medical fraud units are conducting independent investigations.

But Shelby Floyd, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the consent decree, disagreed and said some or all the attorneys from the office -- including Anzai -- may need to be removed from the picture.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin