The state Attorney General’s office is asking for $1 million from the Legislature to pay for past and ongoing lawsuits and to investigate Matson for last September’s destructive molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor.
Attorney General David Louie and First Deputy Attorney General Russell Suzuki submitted testimony to House Finance Committee on Wednesday afternoon, estimating that the total cost of “extraordinary litigation” in the next year and a half could exceed $3 million.
The House Finance Committee is meeting on Thursday afternoon to consider the office’s request, which is contained in House Bill 2248.
A companion proposal, Senate Bill 2797, has been referred to the Senate judiciary and finance committees but hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing.
The AG’s office has requested $1 million in an emergency appropriation to cover the various costs associated with handling four cases, as well as to hire five new staff attorneys and paralegals.
The office estimates that investigating and suing Matson could cost as much as $1.69 million over the next 18 months. The shipping company’s leaky pipeline sent 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor last fall, killing thousands of fish and other sea life.
The AG’s office has retained the San Francisco law firm, Bingham, to seek damages from Matson. The office’s $1.69 million estimate includes $900,000 in legal fees, $700,000 in experts’ fees, and $90,000 for travel and other expenses.
The state also needs money to defend itself in two class-action lawsuits.
One case, Dannenberg v. State of Hawaii, is related to claims for retirees’ health pension benefits and could cost Hawaii up to $650,000 over the next 18 months. Louie and Suzuki said in their testimony to the Legislature that the case is complex and highly technical and may require hiring outside counsel.
The second class action lawsuit, Kalima v. State of Hawaii, involves 2,721 residents who are suing the state and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for mismanaging resources and breaches of trust.
The state was found liable in 2009 for three breaches of trust, and the AG’s office says that it will need half a million dollars over the next 18 months to defend the state against claims for damages.
The office also wants $180,000 to pay for attorneys’ fees in a case against the state’s Election Commission and Chief Elections Officer regarding Hawaii’s 2012 Reapportionment Plan.
The plan determining political representation for each district sparked controversy by excluding active duty military personnel and their families.
The state won the case in the District Court last July and spent $180,000 on attorney’s fees to handle an appeal. But the case was dismissed.
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