The new hearing officer in the case challenging a University of Hawaii telescope project on Maui is also UH president M.R.C. Greenwood‘s personal attorney.

The appointment by selection committee of Rosemary Fazio to oversee the dispute over the Haleakala telescope raises questions of conflict of interest.

Native Hawaiian group, Kilakila o Haleakala, hopes to derail the UH Institute of Astronomy’s plans to build the solar telescope, citing its impact on cultural resources and practices. The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., which represents the group, says that the state should have never granted the project a conservation permit.

A three-member selection committee of state employees chose Fazio, an attorney with Ashford & Winston, from a pool of six pre-qualified applicants. She didn’t specifically apply for the position.

Fazio disclosed her connection to Greenwood in a letter sent to parties in the case last week. It’s unclear if the committee knew of her relationship when the selection was made.

“On occasion, I represent MRC Greenwood, the president of the University, in personal matters unrelated to the University (with the exception of representing Dr. Greenwood in her negotiations with the Board of Regents concerning her employment contract),” she wrote.

Fazio, who the state will pay $275 an hour to act as basically the judge in the permit dispute, declined to comment to Civil Beat.

But she said in the letter that she had never consulted with Greenwood on the telescope and that she believed she could issue a fair and impartial decision.

The case has been before the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources for more than a year and a half.

The previous hearing officer, Steven Jacobson, was dismissed earlier this month after the board ruled he had had inappropriate discussions with the UH Institute of Astronomy about the case.

Jacobson also alleged in state documents that he had been pressured by Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office to speed up the process. Inouye’s office has not responded directly to that allegation, but a spokesman for the senator has stressed Inouye’s support for the project.

The board threw out Jacobson’s recommendations to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety,” shortly after he had submitted a final 115-page decision in the case. Jacobson found that the project’s permit was valid and that Kilakila o Haleakala should not be allowed to intervene. The board ultimately decides the case.

DLNR didn’t respond to a question about whether William Aila, chair of both DLNR and the board, had a concern about Fazio.

Parties to the case have until Friday to submit comments on Fazio’s selection.

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