Plaintiffs: ‘More than half the loaf’ in ruling

The plaintiffs in a “Sunshine Law” challenge to the Maui County Council’s approval of the Honua’ula project in 2008 claimed victory Friday in a ruling on the case Thursday by the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs did not get the high court to agree to their sought-after invalidation of the council’s approval of the 1,150-unit project mauka of the Piilani Highway, formerly called Wailea 670, but they did win other key points in the case, said attorney Lance Collins.

“It was definitely more than half the loaf,” he said.

The plaintiffs complained about two actions by the council. First, that the council’s Land Use Committee in 2007 conducted a series of 12 recessed and reconvened meetings without providing additional notice or an opportunity for public testimony on the project. And, second that members of the County Council during a three-day meeting in early 2008 circulated 14 written memoranda proposing amendments to the development project bills and asking support from other council members.

Without clear legal guidance from the Sunshine Law itself, the Hawaii Supreme Court looked at the law’s legislative history and rulings by the state Office of Information Practices, which administers the law. The judges determined that new agendas and more testimony are not required.

But the judges went into “great detail” about what the council did with the meeting continuances and found it was not in the spirit of the Sunshine Law, Collins said. The court went on to say what should be done to avoid something similar in the future as guidance for boards and commissions.

Before plaintiffs raised the issue, there was “very little case law” about the Sunshine Law, he said, adding that the judges decided that opinions by the Office of Information Practices have the weight of law, unless they are clearly erroneous.

“It’s pretty close to what myself and my clients wanted in the case,” Collins said.

Also, the court directed that attorneys fees be awarded to Collins.

“The court does not award attorneys’ fees to people who lose cases,” he said.

Collins said current County Council practices do comply with the Sunshine Law, however the reforms did not come until after the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit.