Honolulu attorney Carl Caliboso, former chair of the Public Utilities Commission, has recused himself from further participation as Castle & Cooke’s legal counsel in the regulatory review of its proposed Lanai wind project.

In a letter Thursday to current PUC Chair Mina Morita, he said he’s done nothing wrong or unethical. Morita had questioned whether Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct might bar Caliboso from representing Castle & Cooke since he had been involved in decisions related to the same project as a commissioner.

“It is disturbing that the controversy over my participation in this new docket appears to be clouding the review of the Lanai Wind Project ordered by the Commisison in Docket No. 2013-0168,” Caliboso wrote. “Accordingly, in the best interest of our client Castle & Cooke, and out of respect and deference to the Commission’s concerns as evidenced by the contents of the August 15th Letter, I hereby recuse myself from any further appearance before the Commission and participation in this proceeding.”

Other lawyers from Caliboso’s firm will represent Castle & Cooke going forward, he said.

Caliboso said he was not in violation of the current Rules of Professional Conduct or the new rules that go into effect in January because the current review of the Lanai wind project is a new docket that’s not the same “matter” as those he previously participated in as a commissioner.

When he was with the commission, he voted in favor of giving HECO a waiver from the competitive bidding process. The commission’s 2-1 vote in November 2010 let the utility negotiate an agreement with Castle & Cooke and First Wind to develop a 400-megawatt wind project on Lanai and Molokai.

The PUC opened up a new docket in July to review the progress of Castle & Cooke’s wind project. The commission wants to address the uncertainty created as a result of the purchase and sale of the ownership interests in Castle & Cooke, which was part of the deal with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.

Caliboso said the docket reviewing the proposed wind farm “is not the same matter as the matters” Morita described in her Aug. 15 letter to him.

The PUC has been publicly criticized recently for its revolving door of employees leaving the commission to work for companies they once regulated.

Caliboso chaired the PUC from 2003 to 2011, then went to work for a firm downtown that focuses on energy law and public utilities.

In her letter, Morita lists nine memos Caliboso has signed this month on behalf of Castle & Cooke and points at the state law that lets the commission at any time require any person appearing before it in a representative capacity to furnish “proof of authorization and qualification.”

Morita’s letter doesn’t mention the one-year cooling off period, which Caliboso seems to have abided by, that generally guides former state employees on ethics. She quotes the statutes and rules that prohibit lawyers from representing private clients in connection with matters in which they participated personally and substantially as a public employee, unless the government agency grants special permission to do so.

Read Caliboso’s letter here:

Read Morita’s original letter to him here:

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