(AP) — A member of the Hawaii board that approved the Thirty Meter Telescope improperly contacted a state Supreme Court justice weighing the fate of the project.

Justice Michael Wilson filed a notice saying he didn’t read emails he received from Sam Gon last month. The notice reminds parties in the telescope case that communicating with justices is prohibited.

The first email thanked Wilson for participating in an unrelated conservation event committee, Gon told The Associated Press on Thursday. The email also asked if Wilson wanted to know his thoughts on the telescope case, Gon said.

Hawaii State Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael Wilson listens to arguments in case involving Civil Beat's request to the HPD for records relating to disciplinary suspensions between 2003 and 2012. HPD is seeking an order requiring HPD to disclose the disciplanary suspension records 18 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii State Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael Wilson said he didn’t read the improper emails.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I had forgot that there are ex-parte communication issues with the contested case and that he’s serving on the Supreme Court and has to make a decision on that,” Gon said. “I said, I wonder if you would be interested in my thoughts on the matter. As soon as he saw that he sent back an email saying that there are ex-parte communications issues with this.”

Gon said he then sent a second emailing apologizing to Wilson.

“I fully respect the law that requires no communications on issues before the Supreme Court with anyone that’s involved in that,” Gon said. “I’m glad that Mike Wilson chose to send out an advisory.”

Sam Gon said he forgot about the ex-parte communication issues involved in the case.

Ige Administration

When asked if he could provide copies of the emails, Gon said the state Attorney General’s office advised him to destroy them. A spokeswoman for the office said Gon was not advised to destroy emails. On Friday, Gon denied initially saying he was told to destroy the emails and declined further comment.

Gon was one of the Board of Land and Natural Resources members who voted to grant the project a construction permit. Opponents of the project say it will desecrate land held sacred by Native Hawaiians. Those who support it say the telescope will bring educational and economic opportunities to the state.

The Supreme Court is considering an appeal of the permit decision.

Judicial code of conduct rules prohibit what’s known as “ex-parte communications,” or communicating about cases outside of court proceedings, explained David Forman, director of the environmental law program at the University of Hawaii law school. He also teaches a course on appellate advocacy.

“You want to have everything above board,” Forman said. “Everything in open court, a pleading, a filing.”

Prohibiting outside communication maintains the integrity of the judicial process, Forman said.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author