State Attorney General Clare Connors has issued a subpoena to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for information related to OHA’s financial support of the movement to stop construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.

However, the OHA trustees are expected to receive a report on the expenditures at a public meeting next Thursday and so are unlikely to comply with the subpoena before then.

OHA Office of Hawaiian Affairs signage.
The state attorney general appears to be looking into expenditures by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to support protests on Mauna Kea. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Krishna Jarayam, special assistant to Attorney General Clare Connors, said he could not confirm or deny that the office has launched an inquiry into the expenditures by OHA. He wouldn’t answer questions regarding the target of the subpoena or whether the office believes OHA has broken the law.

The state has previously said that the occupation of Mauna Kea Access Road by the kia’i, or protectors as the demonstrators call themselves, is illegal.

 “OHA is inclined to cooperate if it determines that the scope and purpose of the requests as well as the process to be followed are legitimate,” Sterling Wong, an OHA spokesman, wrote in a statement.

Robert Klein, a former Hawaii Supreme Court justice and longtime OHA lawyer, told Civil Beat Friday that it’s unlikely the trustees would send any information to the AG’s office prior to Thursday’s meeting.

They still need to be briefed publicly on the subpoena, he said, and because the release of the expenditure report is already on Thursday’s agenda, having the trustees discuss the report prior to the meeting would violate Hawaii’s public meetings law.

Klein said the trustees are likely to discuss the legitimacy of the subpoena at the meeting and decide how, or if, they should comply. He added that OHA has cooperated with subpoenas from the AG’s office in the past.

Neither the AG’s office nor OHA would release a copy of the subpoena. Civil Beat filed a public records request for it Friday but received no response.

OHA has been criticized for how it handles its money before by the state auditor, and was the target of another AG investigation last year.

Lawmakers this year required OHA to spend $500,000 on a financial audit by the state before it receives any funding next year. 

Colette Machado, chair of the board of trustees, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. Her office said she is still in Hilo, where trustees on Thursday visited the Pu’uhonua O Pu’uhuluhulu where the protesters are camped out, blocking construction vehicles from advancing to the summit to begin site work for the TMT.

They have been there for nearly two months now, and leaders of the movement have vowed to stay a decade or longer, the timeline for TMT construction.

In July, the trustees passed a resolution in support of the protestors. They also spoke against the use of force to clear the road.

OHA rescinded its support for TMT in 2015, and filed suit in 2017 to wrestle management responsibilities of Mauna Kea away from the University of Hawaii.

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