by Andrew Walden
In a June 25, 2019, “Finding of Fact and Conclusions of Law and Order Regarding Both”, Oahu First Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Crabtree has ruled that Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs are subject to Hawaii’s open records law known as UIPA and must within 30 days hand over "their check registers and income and expense statements."
Confirming an earlier March 29, 2019, ‘Minute Order,’ Judge Crabtree holds that the Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) are “agencies … owned, operated, and managed by OHA, a state entity…. (T)he requested documents are not exempt from disclosure….”
How much more beneficiary money will OHA insiders waste in this futile effort to keep their own secrets?
Judge Crabtree rules, “The Court will award (attorneys representing Applicant Walden) reasonable attorney fees and costs….” He also points out, “If the Court had imposed the relief requested by (OHA’s LLCs), it is virtually certain we would be back in the same place within months-- the only difference being more attorneys' fees incurred by all, and more time spent by all with no demonstrable benefit.”
Represented by Honolulu attorney Michael Lilly, Hawai’i Free Press editor Andrew Walden, August 28, 2018, applied to the court for an order directing three of OHA’s seven LLCs to release their check registers.
The LLCs were represented in court by Honolulu attorney Anna Elento-Sneed. Sneed’s ES&A law firm has pulled down over $140K in legal fees from OHA starting soon after ES&A’s 2015 foundation. Among her first acts—negotiating OHA CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe’s controversial employment contract signed in August, 2016, with then-Trustees Chair Robert Lindsey. That factoid came out in a long rant by Crabbe recorded in minutes of the OHA BoT January 7, 2017 (p12).
Sneed’s legal strategy featured a 403 page ‘supplemental memo’ and unsuccessful attempts to force the recusal of Judge Crabtree and to block the filing of friend-of-the-court briefs by the Civil Beat Law Center and the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.
The litigation may have helped Sneed’s bottom line but it didn’t do much to advance her case.
OHA has poured over $34M into its seven LLCs—contradicting attorney Kimberly Greeley, then “represent(ing) Hi’ilei Aloha, LLC, Ho’okele Pono, LLC, and Hi’ipaka LLC” who, in January, 2017, falsely claimed “the State … does not provide any funding for the Companies.”
To find out where the money went, Hawai’i Free Press, in November, 2016, filed a separate open records request for the entire check register for three of the LLCs. After two months of stalling, the LLCs then-attorney Greeley wrote back claiming that the LLCs were private organizations and they—and their assets such as Waimea Valley--were no longer property of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Since that shocking response from Greely, The LLC check registers have been sought by attorneys for Abigail Kawananakoa, by OHA Trustees, and by an auditing firm hired by OHA to look at the LLCs. None of them have yet succeeded in making the records public. Greeley did not represent the LLCs in court.
Sneed has 30 day to appeal.