Prosecutor Denies Potential Conflicts Over Telescope Cases

Oct 11, 2019

KAILUA-KONA — A Hawaii County attorney told an ethics panel he would not face conflicts by prosecuting cases arising from demonstrations against the building of a Mauna Kea telescope.

Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth met with the county Board of Ethics Wednesday in an attempt to assure members he could remain impartial, West Hawaii Today reported Thursday.

The cases involve demonstrators arrested on misdemeanor charges of obstructing a governmental operation during protests against the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea's summit road beginning in July.

Roth's son is employed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory administered by the California Institute of Technology. His wife works for Subaru Telescope, operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. The organizations are among six partners in the telescope project.

Roth's wife is also employed by the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii. The university manages the Maunakea Science Reserve where the mountain's 13 telescopes are located. Additionally, Roth is on the board of a youth program that received a grant from the Thirty Meter Telescope's THINK fund.

Roth turned over 30 cases to the state attorney general pending the board's opinion. The ability to remain impartial under the principle of procedural justice is difficult to define, but Roth said he meets the requirements.

"Believe it or not, what you come up with here will probably be discussed in law schools across the country when it comes to ethics," Roth told the board. "I believe you'll find there is no appearance of impropriety, and if there is, it is so far removed, it wouldn't be a problem."

The ethics board is expected to issue a finding next month.