By now it’s no secret that the lawyer representing the Hawaii State Teachers Association has engaged in a curious and confusing legal strategy in the union’s high-profile labor dispute with the state.

But attorney Herb Takahashi’s bewildering tactics are nothing new, a court order issued earlier this year in an unrelated arbitration case suggests.

In that case, Takahashi filed a series of “premature and unnecessary” motions, according to the judge’s ruling, that at best, caused confusion and, at worst, cost the state (and Takahashi’s client) a lot of money. The motions may have been an attempt to boost attorney’s fees, the judge said.

Takahashi, who has repeatedly declined to talk to reporters about cases he’s involved in, did not immediately return a call for comment for this story.

The case was over an arbitration award. Takahashi represented an HSTA member and former teacher who won her wrongful termination grievance against the state last year. Takahashi’s team and state attorneys were to work with an arbitrator to negotiate payment to the teacher.

But before the parties resolved all their issues and received a final arbitration award, Takahashi derailed the process by taking it to the circuit court. He asked the court to confirm a preliminary arbitration award that included 10 percent interest on the teacher’s back pay and attorneys’ service fees.

The court ultimately denied Takahashi both the 10 percent interest and the attorney’s fees. But not before his request set off “a flurry of litigation activity” in both the arbitration proceeding and the circuit court confirmation proceeding, according to the February 22 ruling, issued by First Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang.

The state had not even agreed to the arbitration award before Takahashi filed for a confirmation.

Chang called Takahashi’s initial filing and three others that came after it, “premature and unnecessary,” and said they should never have been filed in court.

He wrote that the clever tactic “improperly inflates an attorney’s fees claim,” because it shifts award controversies from arbitration proceedings — for which attorneys cannot try to claim fees from their opponents — to the courtroom, where they can.

The result was a flurry of motions — in both the arbitration proceeding as well as the court case — that stretched over four months. Most of the court proceedings took place before the arbitrator even finalized his arbitration award.

As a result, the union’s conduct “actually promoted confusion and touched off a small storm of crisscrossing and overlapping, inter-jurisdictional motions,” Chang wrote. “Union’s premature motion to confirm not only resulted in the needless consumption of enormous resources on the part of both employer and the court, but also rendered the proceedings before this court quite protracted and, in some instances, duplicative.” (Sound familiar?)

Ultimately, the judge rejected the union’s (or its attorney’s) attempt to “improperly (shift) its attorneys’ fees obligations to the opposing party.”

“Awarding union its attorneys’ fees and costs would promote the court’s intrusion into, or interruption of, piecemeal arbitration proceedings,” he added.

Read the full text of the ruling:

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