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Sunday, September 8, 2019
Legal Fees: OHA Lawyers Bill 15 Times Higher
By Andrew Walden @ 8:24 PM :: 3489 Views :: Ethics, OHA

by Andrew Walden

How inefficient are OHA’s lawyers?

Here is the result from this publication's recent freedom of information (UIPA) case, Walden v Hi’ilei Aloha.

According to check registers for Hi’ilei Aloha and Hi’ipaka, LLCs owned by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the law firm ES&A's billings from December, 2016, thru June, 2019, total $268,510—plus a $180-$190 monthly retainer.

From December, 2016, onward, the Hawaii Judiciary Ho’ohiki website shows Walden v Hi’ilei Aloha to be the only litigation in which the LLCs were involved.  The case resulted eventually in First Circuit Judge Jeffrey Crabtree’s ruling that OHA’s LLCs are State agencies subject to UIPA, and his order forcing the LLCs to release their check registers in response to a UIPA request from Hawai’i Free Press. 

The time period covers ES&A’s administrative responses to our initial UIPA request—the first of which was ES&A’s January 7, 2017 letter claiming that “…The Companies are not agencies of the government….”  Billings pick up sharply after the August 28, 2018, filing date of our application for a court order.  

Judge Crabtree also ordered the LLCs to pay our legal fees in the case.  Here’s what Judge Crabtree wrote after Attorney Michael Lilly submitted his bill:

08-28-2019 BY ORDER OF THE COURT

“Frankly, the court was expecting a much larger number for the attorneys' fees, and commends Mr. Lilly on his efficiency…. The total fees and costs awarded is: $17,879.84….

The court has reviewed applicant's non-hearing motion for attorneys' fees and costs…. The court received no opposition. On 8/20/19, respondents filed their "no position."

ES&A billed fifteen times what Lilly billed – and lost.  Perhaps they were embarrassed.  One experienced downtown attorney tells Hawai’i Free Press he has never before seen a “no position” filing in response to a motion for legal fees.

It gets worse.

Departments of the State of Hawaii normally receive legal representation at no cost to their budget from the State Attorney General.  OHA’s LLCs could have received free representation from the beginning, but they have instead wasted a lot of OHA beneficiary money on unnecessary legal bills predicated on the idea that the LLCs –and with them OHA’s 1,875 acre Waimea Valley cultural and historical attraction --had somehow magically become independent of the State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs. 

A review of other litigation involving Hi’ilei Aloha and Hi’ipaka shows ordinary business disputes—not cutting edge cases which might expand native Hawaiian entitlements.

As a result of Judge Crabtree’s order, OHA Trustees, July 25, 2019, voted to approve Action Item RM 19-08, revising a clause in the operating agreement of OHA’s LLCs which had previously allowed nepotism.

Was nepotism the “entitlement” for which OHA’s LLCs spent all that money on unnecessary private attorneys?

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