Hawaii taxpayers are on the hook for more than $60,000 to pay the legal fees of anti-abortion pregnancy service providers on Oahu that claimed the state violated their First Amendment rights.
They successfully challenged a state law that required them to provide a notice that Hawaii has public programs that provide low or no cost access to family planning services, a link to apply for medical insurance and a statement that only ultrasounds performed by healthcare professionals and read by licensed clinicians should be considered accurate. Attorney James Hochberg wrote in court documents in 2017 that the law prevented the church-affiliated pregnancy centers from fulfilling their pro-life mission.
Clarification: A previous version of this story said that pregnancy centers were required by law to provide information on contraceptive methods, public programs for family planning, and other pregnancy related services.
U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson ruled in favor of the plaintiffs last September, saying the law was unconstitutional.
That settlement is just one of 13 involving state government that is expected to cost taxpayers $1.1 million. The Attorney General’s office testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday in favor of House Bill 942, the vehicle for appropriating money for the settlements.
The bill still has a long way to go between a committee vote scheduled Friday and likely final approval in late April, and more settlements could get tacked on. Krishna Jayaram, special assistant to the AG, said that there are no additional settlements so far, but there could be more by the end of the session.
The state settled the largest of the cases on Maui for $585,000. Two unidentified plaintiffs, listed as John Does 1 and 2, claimed in a 2014 lawsuit that they were sexually assaulted by Florentino Rios and that the state’s foster care system failed to protect them from him.
Rios, who went by the name Zack Morris because he liked the character of that name on the TV show “Saved by the Bell,” was convicted of sexually assaulting three foster children in 2011. He is serving a 20-year prison sentence in connection with the assaults.
John Doe 1, then age 14, was placed in Rios’ care in 2009. He was forced to consume alcohol and was sexually assaulted multiple times by Rios, according to the lawsuit. The Department of Human Services placed John Doe 2 in Rios’ care in October 2010. Rios had moved to Hana by then, where he sexually assaulted John Doe 2 and forced him to watch pornographic videos.
“Plaintiffs’ expert opined that both boys suffer from multiple issues, including PTSD, delayed education, and alcoholism, as a result of the sexual abuse,” the AG wrote in a description of the case.
Human Services was also involved with another case in which it split a $55,000 settlement with the Department of Health last August.
The case was brought by Noboru and Elaine Kawamoto, an elderly couple who claimed they were forced to live in separate care homes because of a state law. Lawmakers changed the law in 2017 to allow the Kawamotos to live together. But the court did not drop the case, arguing the state could have made an exception for the Kawamotos earlier.
The First Circuit Court ordered the Department of Land and Natural Resources to pay $160,645 in attorneys’ fees after it was sued for issuing permits to catch aquarium fish without first conducting an environmental review. The case was brought by a group of fishermen and divers.
Two lower courts ruled in favor of DLNR, but the state Supreme Court overturned their rulings in 2017. The high court previously awarded the plaintiffs $74,491 to cover costs for lawyers.
DLNR also made a $70,000 settlement last April after one of its employees struck a driver at the intersection of Nani Kailua Drive and Queen Kaahumanu Highway on the Big Island.
“It is undisputed that the State employee was solely at fault and, therefore, the State was fully liable,” the AG’s description of the case said. “Plaintiff’s vehicle was a total loss and she alleged that she suffered from post concussive syndrome, sustained injuries to her left knee that required surgery, right knee and ankle pain, and had hernia surgery.”
The plaintiff, Penny Boucher, originally asked for $450,000.
The Department of Education is also on the hook for a $75,000 settlement on the Big Island. Pamela Miller-Potter sued the DOE after tripping over a bench at night in a Waimea Middle School hallway where the lights had burned out, according to the AG’s description of the case.
Miller-Potter asked for $212,846 to cover medical expenses. She injured her face and teeth and aggravated a knee condition.
An Oahu man sued the Hawaiian Electric Co. and the state Department of Transportation, among others, after he fractured his shin falling into an 8-foot-deep, grass-covered hole in a median on Kalanianaole Highway.
A court arbitrator awarded Robert Bowles $60,917.89, of which the state will pay $12,166.45.
Read the attorney general’s testimony below.
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