Maui County (HI) Attorneys Request State Subpoenas to Manage Fire Response Probe

Peter Boylan – The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Mar. 25—Maui County attorneys say they have requested subpoenas to work with investigators hired by the state to assess governments’ response to the Aug. 8 wildfires, which killed 101 people, because the investigators have failed to follow realistic and respectful practices for gathering information.

Maui County attorneys say they have requested subpoenas to work with investigators hired by the state to assess governments’ response to the Aug. 8 wildfires, which killed 101 people, because the investigators have failed to follow realistic and respectful practices for gathering information.

The state Department of the Attorney General announced March 18 that the findings of the first phase of its probe will be delayed until April 17.

State Attorney General Anne E. Lopez’s office has served the county since November to help the state’s contractor, the Fire Safety Research Institute, in its efforts to secure documents and interviews with police, firefighters, Maui Emergency Management Agency officials and other county officials. The subpoenas also seek to speed up and organize requests for documents made by FSRI investigators.

Officials with the Attorney General’s Office told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week that the delay was partly because the initial responses from the county (to FSRI inquiries ) “were often slow and yielded less information than expected.”

In response to a Star-­Advertiser request for comment after the delay was announced, Maui County’s Department of Corporation Counsel, led by Victoria J. Takayesu and her first deputy, Mimi DesJardins, issued a statement Tuesday to the Star-Advertiser.

The county officials said they share the state attorney general’s goal of “comprehensively analyzing the timeline of the August 2023 utility-caused fires, a task that is simultaneously being completed by the County of Maui Fire Department, by the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and by dozens of independent experts in the ongoing lawsuits related to the fires.”

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Hawaiian Electric officials have denied that the company’s downed electrical equipment ignited the wind-whipped inferno that destroyed much of Lahaina.

In support of the attorney general’s “efforts and the efforts of its consultant FSRI, ” the county officials said they delivered over 30 different productions of documents. Those documents include nearly 20, 000 distinct files, including almost 8, 000 video and audio files, 48, 000 pages and over 118 gigabytes of data. The county has made its “personnel, directors, deputies, and employees available for over 150 technical interviews and numerous site visits into and around the affected areas.”

“The County has shown and continues to show great respect for the Department’s investigative authority in this matter, ” the Maui Corporation Counsel officials said in the statement. “Of course, the County also appreciates the Department’s mutual respect for the realities faced by a significant number of County personnel, who must continue maintaining the operations of County infrastructure and systems while they also grieve, re-orient their lives, and recover physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually from the fires. To this end, subpoenas were requested for personnel testimony following multiple instances of FSRI arriving to interview County personnel, including first responders, without notice, coordination, or legal representation.”

There were “several occasions ” where interviews of county first responders “occurred during work hours ” and were interrupted by emergencies requiring the attention of county personnel, “only to have FSRI waiting for them upon their return, ” they said.

Toni Schwartz, public information officer for the Department of the Attorney General, told the Star-­Advertiser in a statement that Lopez is “committed to finding the truth.”

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“The intent of this independent investigation is to make improvements to processes and protocols to make Hawaii a safer place to live and work, ” Schwartz said. “This requires timely access to the facts and data, covering what happened in the first 24-72 hours, from the government agencies responding to this devastating fire event. The Phase One report will be released on April 17 and we are confident the report will provide answers to many of the questions surrounding this tragic wildfire incident.”

County attorneys also asked for document subpoenas so staff could “organize and track FSRI’s dozens of requests, many of which FSRI communicated directly to County personnel despite the County’s repeated requests to go through Corporation Counsel.”

“The document subpoenas have greatly assisted in managing FSRI’s more than 150 informal and unorganized document requests and has allowed County personnel to better track the progress of production for each. It has also helped the County identify multiple instances of repeated requests or requests for information that had already been provided, ” Maui County attorneys noted.

County officials said they have helped FSRI’s investigators by permitting “free-flowing and informal modifications to written document requests, organizing data and information for FSRI, and converting information into different data formats to best suit FSRI’s needs.”

“Many of these requests by FSRI asked the County to produce and provide work product, and, in some cases, County personnel obliged in the spirit of good faith cooperation. Finally, the County has provided to FSRI all documents that have been produced by the County in response to dozens of UIPA requests from the public, ” read the statement from county attorneys. UIPA is the Uniform Information Practices Act.

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Ongoing litigation also prompted the “process of disclosing both the UIPA production and the FSRI production ” to all parties in the ongoing litigation—including “hundreds of claimants and their attorneys and experts.”

“The County is in the process of complying with its discovery obligations with respect to that order, ” attorneys noted.

In February the Maui Police Department released 32 recommendations and preliminary findings from an internal review of its response to the Aug. 8 high winds and wildfires.

The was based on 26 hours of recorded radio transmissions that was “meticulously reviewed and analyzed to construct an accurate timeline.”

The Maui Department of Fire and Public Safety, led by Chief Bradford Ventura, is working on a similar review while trying to determine the cause and origin of the deadly Aug. 8 fires, which burned 2, 000 structures and displaced more than 8, 000 people.

“The Maui County Department of Fire and Public Safety is still working with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review data regarding the August 8th wildfires. Once all the relevant data has been reviewed, ATF will provide our department with their findings, ” read a Wednesday statement from the county department. “Following that, our department will be able to put our final report together. There is not definitive timeline on this work, as we know the work is tedious and time consuming. We want to get this information out to those who have requested it ; however, we want it to be correct when released.”

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Peter Boylan – The Honolulu Star-Advertiser Mar. 25—Maui County attorneys say they have requested subpoenas to work with investigators hired by the state to assess governments’ response to the Aug. 8 wildfires, which killed 101 people, because the investigators have failed to follow realistic and respectful practices for gathering information. Maui County attorneys say they have requested subpoenas […]

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