Above the Law

Since the 2013 Special Session, Rep. Sylvia Luke has become a fixture in this blog for her contempt both for people of faith and for open and honest government. Amongst her offenses, Luke

  1. has berated testifiers from the faith-based community for their beliefs and their testimony on same-sex marriage,
  2. habitually files hearing notices exactly 48 hours before the hearing time,[1] and
  3. has a pattern of cutting off[2] or denying public testimony on a measure[3].

Recent incidents have proven however that both Rep. Luke and House Speaker Joe Souki believe that she is above the rules and any laws that might govern her.[4] The incident in question involves a bill (SB1007 SD2 HD2) heard before the House Finance Committee to indemnify the State of Hawaii against liability claims made by hikers or rock climbers. Despite overwhelming testimony in favor of the draft before the committee, Sylvia Luke deleted the provision to indemnify the state for a much weaker provision requiring any rock climber or hiker to sign a waiver of liability.[5]

Media links ( KITV | Hawaii News Now | Associated Press )[6]

In the KITV segment, Luke audaciously stated:

“I think through communication we’ll have a better approach and they will understand that my interest is protecting the state. It comes down to communication and hopefully we can have a discussion about how we can open up these lands, but at the same time you need to give up the right to sue the state.”

Clearly, communication is not one of Luke’s strongest talents. Both during the April 4th Decision Making Hearing, and in the committee’s report (HSCR 1655-14), Luke specified specified that the committee was only “making technical, nonsubstantive amendments for clarity, consistency, and style.”[7] However, both the outdoor community and legislators were shocked that these same “technical, non-substantive” changes reduced the seven page bill to a single page.

The ethics question comes into play when we consider Luke’s “day job” as a personal injury attorney. These attorneys are informally called “ambulance chasers”. It is in the financial interests of any personal injury attorney (like Sylvia Luke) that parties with deep pockets (like the State of Hawaii) are able to be sued for enormous amounts.[8] While their clients receive compensation for the personal injury, exorbitant claims are used as compensation for personal injury attorneys involved in the suit. Luke’s watering of the measure’s provisions is neither defensible nor is her “interest (in) protecting the state”.

Additionally, Luke believes that she is immune to any prosecution stemming from the abuse of her position for personal gain. By extension, she (and the Speaker Joe Souki) believes that the code of ethics that every legislator is bound to should have no effect on her. During an election year, look for this ethics complaint to fizzle out as it is defused by powerful elected officials via back channels.

It is a sad day when elected officials abuse their power and get away with it. This is not the democracy we signed up for. As of the writing of this blog, neither Common Cause Hawaii nor the League of Women Voters – Hawaii have commented on this instance of government corruption.

Blogger’s Note: The “Masequerade “ series that began earlier this week was interrupted by news coming from the Capitol this week and will continue in future posts. It should be noted that this post is part and parcel of elected officials attempting to pass the image that “everything is fine” while they continue to work in the interests of the few and the interests of themselves. (JH)

[1]One notable example is the Notice of Hearing regarding the minimum wage bill, that was not filed until 2PM on Monday, March 31st to offer as little notice for members of the public notice as possible while meeting the minimum legal requirements. Knowing the average citizen has a day job and family obligations that prohibit them from attending daytime public hearings, short notice is given on the most controversial of legislative bills. Legislative rules differ from Sunshine Law because of the abbreviated session calendar and only require 48 hours notice.

[2] While one of many examples, in the same situation as (1), waiting testifiers were cut off and not allowed to testify to the same minimum wage bill. It is the right of every citizen to petition their government, and an unseemly violation of one of the core principals of our Constitution.

[3] HOJ Blog, Slap on the Wrist

[4] A previous post documents questionable spending by Rep. Romy Cachola who used campaign dollars to finance what appears to be a personal vehicle (SUV) and associated insurance and fuel costs. While campaign spending laws prohibit the expenditure of campaign funds for personal purposes, no special investigative committee has been convened by the Speaker of the House to investigate the allegations.

[5] The Office of the Attorney General who testified in favor of the bill to limit the state’s liability for rock climbing accidents noted in an Associated Press article that Luke proposal for signing of waivers is problematic at best.

[6] A previous iteration of this post noted that Civil Beat has yet to cover the story of the ethics complaint.  Since then, Civil Beat as posted a comment.  The previous footnote has accordingly been removed..

[7] Measures before the Legislature, like other drafted documents often contain simple grammatical or legal typos and lump them together as “technical” or “nonsubstantive” amendments, rather than specifying each individual change. While these amendments are part and parcel of the process, the events on April 4th are far in excess of this custom.

[8] The AP article has a particularly good write-up of how Luke’s law firm (Cronon Fried Sekiya Kekina and Fairbanks) specializes in recreational injury suits that this bill is supposed to limit. The article states “The complaint alleges that Luke’s position as an attorney with the firm Cronin Fried Sekiya Kekina and Fairbanks created a conflict of interest when she considered a bill that could affect the state’s exposure to personal injury lawsuits. The firm’s website lists “recreational accidents” as an area of expertise. When its investigators take a case involving such an injury, “improperly marked hiking or dirt bike trails” are among the features they look for, the site states.

2 thoughts on “Above the Law

  1. […] Liberal Democrats have not missed an opportunity to walk in the exact opposite direction of good government – it is no wonder that the public has no trust in elected officials.  It was Sylvia Luke of all people who altered a bill that to create civil litigation against the State that would benefit her law firm – and in doing so famously noted that the rules do not apply to her. […]

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