Two state board members are getting involved in the ongoing legal battle over the release of financial disclosure statements.

Sandi Kato-Klutke, a member of the Agribusiness Development Corporation, and Chad McDonald, who serves on the Land Use Commission, have asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to keep their financial disclosure statements confidential pending an appeal.

The Hawaii Attorney General’s office, which is representing them in their official capacities, filed the motion for a writ of mandamus last week. It marks the latest development in a lawsuit Civil Beat, represented by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, filed in September seeking the release of the financial disclosure statements of the current members of the ADC, LUC and University of Hawaii Board of Regents.

Aliiolani Hale, the home of the Hawaii State Supreme Court. It is the former seat of government of the Kingdom of Hawaii and the Republic of Hawaii.  9.16.14

The legal debate over the release of financial disclosure statements of certain state board members has moved to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The Legislature in April unanimously passed a bill that added 15 boards and commissions to the list of those whose members must publicly disclose their financial ties, including those three boards. The law took effect July 8 without Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s signature.

The Ethics Commission had advocated for this type of legislation for years, believing the public’s help is necessary to identify potential conflicts of interest among powerful state board members.  The commission has found itself between the proverbial rock and a hard place though over the interpretation of the law.

The five-member volunteer commission’s executive director, Les Kondo, advised that the law requires the release of the financial disclosure statements of any current member of the affected boards, regardless of when they filed the forms.

But the commission instead followed the Attorney General’s advice, which was that the disclosures of those members who filed before the law took effect should be kept private.

The lawsuit was filed in response to the Ethics Commission’s decision to withhold the financial disclosures of current members of the affected boards who filed their disclosure statements before the law took effect.

First Circuit Judge Rhonda Nishimura in November granted Civil Beat’s request for a preliminary injunction to force the commission to release the records immediately.

In December, Nishimura denied the Attorney General’s request for a stay pending appeal, but both parties agreed to a stay pending the request for the writ of mandamus to the Supreme Court.

It’s curious, however, that the Attorney General filed the petition on behalf of two state board members instead of the Ethics Commission. Regardless, the move is expected to further delay the release of the records for another month or two at least.

It’s unknown what the Supreme Court will do. The justices could decide that Nishimura’s ruling should stand and the records should be released immediately, or they could direct the parties to go through a more formal appeals process that would likely take significantly longer.

In asking the state’s highest court to approve its request, the Attorney General’s office said the stay “would prevent the irreversible release of these sensitive documents, so that an appeal may be filed and resolved in the ordinary course.”

By late July, 26 members across 10 state boards had quit since the bill was passed. The governor’s office has steadily appointed new members to fill those seats.

Russell Suzuki, who was deputy attorney general under David Louie, is serving as AG in the interim as Gov. David Ige continues to weigh who he should appoint as the permanent successor.

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