The Attorney General’s Office weighed in on Gov. David Ige’s right to make an interim appointment to the state Public Utilities Commission before Ige exercised that right Wednesday.

The governor announced he had selected Tom Gorak, the commission’s chief legal counsel, to replace Commissioner Mike Champley, whose term expired Thursday.

“The expiration of a term of an appointive office causes a vacancy which a governor may fill by appointment during a recess of the Senate,” Attorney General Douglas Chin wrote in a letter dated Monday and obtained by Civil Beat on Thursday.

Governor David Ige announces his appointment to the Public Utility Commission, Thomas Gorak. 29 june 2016

Gov. David Ige, right, announces the appointment of Tom Gorak, left, to the Public Utilities Commission.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The timing of the changeover was critical because the PUC is on the verge of ruling on the proposed $4.3 billion deal to sell Hawaiian Electric Industries to Florida-based NextEra Energy.

Ige also could have chosen to keep Champley on the PUC, Chin wrote, saying Champley could serve until, according to statute, “the member’s successor is appointed and qualified.”

While the word “qualified” could be interpreted to mean confirmed by the Senate, Chin said, he considered it to mean “the governor’s review of the qualifications of the individual as well as the taking of the oath of office by the appointee.”

Read Chin’s letter here:

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