The majority leader of the Hawaii House of Representatives said Tuesday that the state auditor may be held in contempt unless he responds to a special investigative committee’s request for documents related to audit reports.

Rep. Della Au Belatti made the announcement in a public video conference with a House investigative committee that she chairs.

The committee has been looking at compliance issues regarding audits of the Agribusiness Development Corp. and a special land development fund of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Belatti told her committee members that she is rejecting State Auditor Les Kondo’s request — in letters on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 — for more time to respond to the committee’s demands.

A screen shot of Rep. Della Au Belatti speaking during a House investigative committee hearing Tuesday regarding State Auditor Les Kondo.
A screenshot of Rep. Della Au Belatti speaking during a House investigative committee hearing regarding State Auditor Les Kondo. Screenshot

Belatti said the documents in question do not fall under the status of what are known as working papers that are confidential under state law, as Kondo argued. She said instead that they are in fact public documents.

Kondo described the committee’s latest move — subpoenaing the state auditor’s office for the documents — as “unfair and unreasonable.”

“This is not a parking ticket, this is criminal contempt. This is serious,” he said, explaining that penalties could result in up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Kondo said Belatti’s committee had put the auditor’s office “in an impossible position,” arguing that complying with the subpoena could lead to his office possibly violating state law.

State Auditor Leslie Kondo Editorial Board-4
State Auditor Les Kondo at a Civil Beat editorial board meeting earlier this year. Claire Caulfield/Civil Beat/2021

He said his office is seeking outside legal representation, as the state attorney general would have an obvious conflict in trying to both prosecute and defend the State Auditor.

Kondo complained that the House committee’s investigation was chartered to examine the ADC and DLNR audits but has instead become an investigation into Kondo and his office.

“What’s going on is not right,” he said, adding that he expected to retain legal counsel within 30 days.

Belatti could not be reached for comment. But during the committee hearing, Rep. Amy Perusso asked what would happen if Kondo missed the deadline of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Belatti replied that Kondo would be “willfully disobeying” the committee’s request, which would set in motion contempt considerations by the committee.

Belatti said HRS Chapter 21 gives her committee the authority to issue the subpoena. The statute details the process by which the Legislature can conduct investigations, including calling witnesses and issuing subpoenas.

The House video conference lasted only a few minutes. Belatti said the investigative committee will continue its work in public hearings on Oct. 20 and Oct. 28. DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, ADC Executive Director Jimmy Nakatani and others have been subpoenaed to appear.

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