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Honolulu Denies Employees Use Of Law Firm In Rail Inquiry

Casey Harlow
Honolulu Hale

Members of the Honolulu City Council have rejected a request to hire a mainland law firm to cope with a federal criminal investigation of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, officials said.

City attorneys expect the inquiry will result in subpoenas or other requests for information about the authority's $9.2 billion rail project, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

The rail authority was served with three federal grand jury subpoenas in February seeking tens of thousands of records, but the focus of the investigation remains unclear.

The city council's Committee on Executive Matters and Legal Affairs voted Tuesday to reject a request by the city corporation counsel to spend up to $50,000 on a contract with Farella Braun & Martel LLP.

The 4-3 vote effectively killed the plan to hire the San Francisco-based law firm, forcing city employees served with subpoenas to find their own legal counsel because corporation council attorneys are civil lawyers and cannot handle criminal matters, officials said.

Executive and legal committee Chairman Ron Menor said city employees served with subpoenas or other information requests related to the rail project are "going to be on their own."

The request to hire an outside law firm grew out of interactions between city lawyers and federal prosecutors, Menor said.

"Corp counsel anticipates, again, that federal investigation will extend to requests for information from federal prosecutors that will be directed potentially to city employees and personnel" outside the rail authority, Menor said. "That's what they indicated."

Investigators could request interviews with employees in transportation services or other departments. Outside lawyers would have advised city workers on what information should be divulged and what should be withheld under federal or state law, Menor said.

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