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Hawaii State Land Board Reaffirms Judge Riki May Amano as TMT Contested Case Hearing Officer

The Board of Land and Natural Resources (the “Board”) today issued Minute Order No. 9 (the “Order”) in the Contested Case Hearing for the Conservation District Use Application (“CDUA”) for the Thirty Meter Telescope (“TMT”) at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve. In the Order the Board unanimously denied a motion to disqualify retired Hilo judge Riki May Amano as the hearing officer in the case.

TMT laser

The Order provides the Board’s detailed reasons for denying the motion. It also restates some of the Board’s findings in denying a previous disqualification motion.

The Board also unanimously declined to grant objections to Board member Chris Yuen’s service on the selection committee that picked Judge Amano.

The Board’s Order addresses the public scrutiny facing this contested case hearing and notes that both the Petitioners and the University of Hawaii are concerned that Judge Amano’s selection may not survive review in an appellate court. As it reasoned, however,

 “[t]he Board is concerned that, taken to its logical extreme, ensuring a contested case process that subjectively ‘appears to be fair’ to every possible person who takes an interest in the TMT project would likely necessitate not only the disqualification of Judge Amano but of every potential hearing officer who otherwise possessed the acumen to hear this case.”

It goes on to provide that

“[n]o qualified hearing officer candidate is likely to satisfy all spectators and remove all fears of reversal. The Board will not go down this rabbit hole.”

Instead, the Board adopts the objective standard cited in a previous Supreme Court decision (Mauna Kea Anaina Hou v. Board of Land and Natural Resources, 136 Hawai‘i 376, 395, 363 P.3d 224, 243 (2015)). It found,

“the commitment to an objective ‘appearance of fairness’ test is consistent throughout Hawai‘i judicial decisions.”

Further, the Order provides that,

“[w]ith due respect and consideration to the parties’ various interests and reasons for asking the Board to replace Judge Amano, the Board cannot and will not sidestep its own administrative responsibility to exercise judgment and common sense regarding whether the selection process up until now has objectively appeared to be fair. Common sense must prevail.”

As for the Petitioners’ claim that board member Yuen should recuse himself in this matter and should not have served as a member of the selection committee for the hearing officer, the Board found that a statement made nearly two decades before the TMT CDUA was filed is not evidence of bias or prejudgment.

Quoting Yuen’s written response to the Petitioners’ objections,

“I think that the policy for board members is similar to that for judges: there is a duty to serve when you are not legally disqualified, just as there is a duty to disqualify yourself when good cause exists . . . Board members should not be selected for the absence of opinions: they have to know how to review facts and decide particular cases on their merits given the legal criteria.”

Minute Order No. 9, along with all other orders released by the Board, are available on the DLNR website at the location noted below.

Minute Order No. 9

http://dlnr.hawaii.gov/faqs/mauna-kea-faq/

 

Judge Riki May Amano Affirmed as TMT Contested Case Officer

All seven members of the Hawai‘i Board of Land and Natural Resources (Board), in a decision released today, directed retired Hawai‘i island Judge Riki May Amano to proceed as the contested case hearing officer for the Conservation Use District Application (CDUA) for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

TMT laser

In response to objections raised by certain parties (“Petitioners”) to Judge Amano’s selection as the TMT hearing officer due to her family membership in the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center (“‘Imiloa”) operated by the University of Hawaii-Hilo, the Board stated: “A ‘family membership’ does not confer any right to participate in ‘Imiloa’s governance or decision making, in contrast to organizations where members may vote for a board of directors or other officers,” and the membership simply allows her and her family to “view exhibits and displays at a museum that focuses on astronomy, Mauna Kea, and Hawaiian culture.”

In written disclosures to the Board last month, Judge Amano stated that she and her husband paid $85 per year since 2008 to maintain an ‘Imiloa family membership, which allows free admission to the astronomy center and discounts at the center restaurant and gift shop. Judge Amano further declared that her family membership expires on May 24, 2016 and will not be renewed.

The Board stated, “No reasonable person would infer that the possibility of this ‘benefit’ (‘Imiloa family membership) would override the hearing officer’s duty to make an impartial recommendation to the Board.”  The Hawai’i Revised Code of Judicial Conduct directly addresses the issue of how to treat Judge Amano’s membership if ‘Imiloa is assumed to be a party to the contested case. “The rule provides that a judge shall disqualify herself if the judge or her specific listed relative are a party to the proceeding, or an officer, director, general partner, managing member of trustee of a party.  While this list is not exhaustive, what is significant to the BLNR is that all of these grounds involve some kind of fiduciary or managerial relationship between the judge (or the judge’s relative) and the party.  Such relationships do not remotely resemble the ‘family membership’ at issue here,” said the Board in its decision.

The Board carefully deliberated as to Judge Amano’s statement that she initially saw no connection between ‘Imiloa and the TMT application, and her statement that she did not know that ‘Imiloa was part of UH-Hilo. The Board accepted Judge Amano’s explanation and added, “The Board would certainly encourage hearing officers to disclose a broad range of known relationships…but it will not disqualify Judge Amano for not disclosing her ‘Imiloa family membership, which even in connection with facts she did not know, is not something that a reasonable person would consider likely to affect the impartiality of the arbitrator. The Board finds that under the applicable legal standards, a reasonable person knowing all the facts would not doubt the impartiality of Judge Amano.”

The Board also found that the public notice soliciting attorneys to apply to serve as the TMT contested case hearing officer was properly published on January 29, 2016. Additionally the Board ruled that its decision to delegate the selection of the hearing officer to the Board Chairperson did not need to be made in an open meeting pursuant to chapter 92 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes (the “Sunshine Law”).  Citing legal decisions, the Board found that the Sunshine Law did not apply to boards exercising adjudicatory functions, such as conducting a contested case hearing. Further, the Petitioners’ claim that they should have received prior notice of the selection process was not required because, “The Board’s decision to delegate authority to a hearing officer and the selection of a hearing officer are properly adjudicatory functions.”

On December 2, 2015, the Hawaii Supreme Court remanded the TMT permit application to the circuit court to further remand to the Board for a contested case hearing.  On February 22, 2016, circuit judge Greg K. Nakamura remanded the matter to the Board.  Four days later on February 26, the Board met to restart the contested process.  A public solicitation for a hearing officer occurred, a three member committee evaluated applications, and the hearing officer was announced on March 31.  Three supplemental disclosures were filed by Judge Amano in April, followed by more opportunities for the Petitioners to respond. The Board gave all parties until May 2 to raise legal arguments for or against the selection process and selection of the hearing officer.

Today’s sixteen-page decision denies the Petitioners’ objections and directs Judge Amano to begin the contested case process.