Conspiracy. Banana republic dictator. Forced interrogations.

Those are some of the words a Big Island attorney used last week when talking about a quasi-judicial hearing that starts Tuesday to determine if his client violated the state ethics code.

The inquiry, before the Hawaii Ethics Commission is significant in a number of ways. It will be the commission’s first contested case hearing in 27 years, said Executive Director Les Kondo, who will essentially function as lead prosecutor.

And there are broad implications for the state’s entire charter school community, government employees and the public at large.

Ted Hong, an experienced litigator who has held an array of high-level positions in Hawaii, is representing Eric Boyd, administrative assistant at Connections Public Charter School in Hilo.

The commission has charged Boyd with more than two dozen violations going back to 2006. The strongest conflict-of-interest counts involve Boyd — who also owns and runs a food service business with his wife — signing off on payments to himself for providing hundreds of school meals and selling thousands of dollars worth of electronics equipment to the school.

The case is finally coming to a head this week, more than two years after the initial charges were filed.

The alleged ethics violations alone are serious, and could result in $10,000 in fines.

But the decisions made by the commission — a five-member, governor-appointed volunteer body that will function as judge and jury — could set new precedents for Hawaii.

Here’s what’s at play:

  • Kondo v. Hong. The two have no love for each other. They’ve been fighting each other for the past couple years, and both seem genuinely astounded by the other’s actions.

  • Who is a state employee? A central question to be answered in this case is whether Boyd is a state employee. Kondo, backed by opinions from the Attorney General’s office, has no doubt Boyd is. But Hong insists charter school employees are independent, that they abide by ethics codes created by their local governing school boards.

  • Legal representation. Kondo asserts that Connections Public Charter School can’t hire Hong to represent the school or Boyd. Hong remains vague about who’s paying him, which makes it hard to know for sure if he’s breaking a law he says doesn’t apply to him anyway.

The case is set to start in Hilo Tuesday morning and is expected to take two days. Kondo said a case like this should only take a couple hours. Hong said it could stretch into a third day. There were two efforts to settle it before it went to a hearing, but neither was successful.

Hong tried in 2010 to get the courts to say the commission doesn’t have jurisdiction. But the judge said the case needs to flow through the contested case hearing process first, then Hong can appeal to the court. Hong said he is prepared to take it all the way to the state Supreme Court if necessary.

“This case highlights and threatens the independence of charter schools,” Hong said. “Mr. Kondo is handling this case almost like some Third World banana republic. He should butt out.”

Although Hong refers to Connections as a small charter school the state is picking on, Kondo said the case involves a $100,000-a-year contract for the food services alone and the K-12 school enrolls more than 350 students.

Kondo referred to Hong as someone who routinely bullies and threatens his commission’s staff, and he plans to hold him accountable at the hearing. Kondo said the violations are clear, and he has the documents to back them up.

Here are the legal documents, and supporting evidence, listing the charges the state filed against Boyd:

Here are the legal documents Hong filed in response to the commission’s charges against Boyd:

More information on the case is available on the commission’s website by clicking here.

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