State Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran didn’t give a reason for his plans to resign at the end of October.

Hawaii Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, who has faced public criticism about his role as a private attorney in connection with litigation over the Lahaina wildfire disaster, announced plans to resign from the Senate effective Oct. 31.

Keith-Agaran sent his resignation letter, dated Wednesday, to Gov. Josh Green, Senate President Ron Kouchi, Hawaii Democratic Party Chair Dennis Jung and Maui Democratic Party Chair Stephanie Ohigashi, but did not specifically say why he is quitting the Senate midterm.

His letter to the state’s leading Democrats simply says “it has been my privilege to have served in the state Legislature representing the people of my Central Maui Communities in Senate District 5 and former House District 5.”

Keith-Agaran was reelected last year to a four-year term scheduled to end in 2026.

Criticism began when Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran’s photo appeared on social media advertising regarding Maui wildfires. (Screenshot/2023)

He later elaborated in a written statement issued by the Senate.

“I believe that this decision best serves the interests of the Maui people especially given what they have gone through over the last three weeks, and what they continue to experience,” Keith-Agaran said.

“As we know, the Maui community — including members of my extended clan who lived and worked in West Maui — have suffered tremendous losses, including losing loved ones. Some, to this day, are still not identified or found,” Keith-Agaran said in the statement. “The choice for me has always been and will always be my family and community, and this decision is consistent with that overriding value.” 

Keith-Agaran represents Wailuku, Kahului and Waihee, and is a partner in the Maui law firm of Takitani Agaran Jorgensen & Wildman. That firm has been working with lawyers from Morgan & Morgan, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Injury Law Firm.”

The law firms are positioning themselves to participate in litigation over the Maui wildfire, with Morgan & Morgan already filing a lawsuit against Hawaiian Electric and Maui Electric Co. over the Maui fires.

Keith-Agaran did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon. However, he told Civil Beat at a forum on Sunday for potential law clients that if push came to shove and he had to chose between his clients and his constituents, Keith-Agaran might choose his law practice over politics.

“I’ve always had a legal practice, my professional responsibilities are to my clients so I would pick my clients,” he said.

“If it gets to the point where it’s just such a distraction,” he said about the role his law firm will play in the fires’ aftermath. “I was appointed to this position, I didn’t run for it initially so I’m not wedded to staying in the Legislature.”

Green told Civil Beat recently he is concerned about the influx of mainland firms that have partnered with local attorneys to sue Hawaiian Electric Co. in the wake of the disaster.

He said those firms and others poised to attack HECO have exhibited “predatory” behavior, and he worries they will take a large percentage of any future legal settlement and send that money off island.

Agaran’s firm, for example, has told victims of the Lahaina fire that the firms’ cut of any settlement would be 33.3%.

“That’s not good for our people,” Green said. “It’s going to be part of my job to fight off that usual experience and instead seek people’s better angels here. I’m going to humbly ask our local attorneys as they deal with these cases to make sure all of that resource — whatever it ultimately is — goes to the people and not to other firms in other parts of the country. That doesn’t help Hawaii recover.”

Kouchi said in a written statement Wednesday that Keith-Agaran “is a brilliant legislator whose integrity is beyond reproach and his leadership, experience, and calming influence, will be sorely missed in the Senate.”

“Although not privy to the reasons for his decision, Senator Keith-Agaran’s reasons must have been thoughtfully and carefully considered,” Kouchi said in his statement.

Keith-Agaran was appointed to the state House in 2009. He was later appointed to the Senate in 2013, where he has emerged as a power player.

As vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Keith-Agaran oversees development of the Senate’s proposed list of state construction spending, a role that gave him outsized influence over which state projects are funded.

Democratic Party officers will provide the names of three possible replacements for Keith-Agaran, and those names will be transmitted to Green for his consideration. State law gives Green sixty days from the date the Senate seat becomes vacant to appoint a replacement from that list.

Read a copy of the letter obtained by Civil Beat here:

Civil Beat reporter Nick Grube contributed to this report.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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