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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Former union leader loses bid to blame union for his negligence

May 29th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Gary Rodrigues, the former United Public Workers who served over five years in prison for defrauding his union, lost his bid to force UPW to pay an earlier $850,000 judgement again him.

Rodrigues was represented in this case by attorneys Eric Seitz and Della Au Belatti, a state representative who chairs the House Health Committee.

The case began with a series of loans Rodrigues had approved while serving as the administrator of the union’s Mutual Aid Fund, a benefit trust funded entirely by UPW members and their families. The Mutual Aid Fund, or MAF, is covered by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

In 1998, Rodrigues, as the MAF’s plan administrator, made six loans totaling $1.1 million to Best Rescue Systems, Inc. (Best Rescue) a startup company located in Florida. Best Rescue never repaid the loans and in October 2003, the MAF filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii (federal district court) alleging, inter alia, that Rodrigues was negligent in making the loans and had thus breached his fiduciary duties as plan administrator to the MAF.

The court ruled Rodrigues had been negligent in approving all but the first loan, and ordered him to replay $850,000.

Rodrigues then filed suit in state court, arguing that he had been acting solely in his capacity as a union official, and that the union was liable for his actions.

His legal argument took a strange twist when he argued that the union was at fault because “UPW negligently supervised him in his role as an ERISA fiduciary and thus, UPW, not he, should be held liable for his breach of fiduciary duties under ERISA.”

This week, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against Rodrigues, crushing whatever hope he had of recovering the $850,000 judgement as well as a decade of attorneys fees and court costs.

Read the Hawaii Supreme Court decision

Read an earlier entry explaining more about the case.

Review my series of investigative stories on the Rodrigues-UPW scandal.

→ 1 CommentTags: Court · Crime · Labor · Politics

Feline Friday: Checking out the yard

May 29th, 2015 · 2 Comments

Romeo & AnnieThe cats have had a good week. Since Lumber hasn’t been around, we’ve let them go in the morning for a little bit of sun and a walk around the yard.

I discovered that if I go out with them, Romeo and Annie will walk with me around the yard, exploring along the way.

Romeo, of course, stops now and then to mark his territory. But he doesn’t wander off on his own. I haven’t really tested whether they’ll follow me back inside, but it might be worth exploring. For the time being, I’ll pick up Romeo and carry him back into the house after we’ve been out for a while. But even when Romeo is left unescorted, he’s been coming back within a a few minutes. And he’s kept his completely unescorted escapades to no more than half an hour. I’ve rewarded him liberally with praise and food.

Annie often takes a little longer to return, but she doesn’t have any history of fighting, so I haven’t considered that worrisome.

Sometimes Ms. Kili will follow us, but more often Kili and Toby don’t wander far from the front deck. Duke will sometimes check under the house for potential trespassers, and Wally usually just takes in the sun on the deck.

And so it does in our little feline-human colony.

–> Click here to see the rest of today’s Friday Felines.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Cats · Photographs

Kahala School: Two more class photos, 1957-58

May 28th, 2015 · No Comments

When I described the 60th Anniversary of Kahala Elementary School a few days ago, I noticed that I was missing a photo of my 4th grade class. One of my former classmates at the school commented:

“wish you had the 4th grade photo Miss Landis – I believe- and then Mrs. Reichauer’s (sp?) 5th grade class”.

So I went looking.

And voila!

Mrs. Landis and her 4th grade class, as requested, followed by Mrs. Reichardt’s 5th grade class. The former is from my collection, and I snapped a photo of the latter with my phone while looking through the small collection of pictures during the 60th anniversary celebration.

There’s a class list that my mom typed up for the 4th grade photo, but for Mrs. Reichardt’s class, we’re all on our own.

Click on any one to see a larger version.

4th grade, Mrs. Landis

4th grade, Mrs. Landis

5th grade, Mrs. Reichardt

→ No CommentsTags: Education · History · Photographs

Throwback Thursday: Why is he smiling?

May 28th, 2015 · 1 Comment

Why am I smiling in this photo from August 1985?

The headline tells the story.

Just the month before, Common Cause/Hawaii had released my report alleging corruption and extensive violations of the state’s ethics laws by a lobbying group associated with the state judiciary.

At the time, I was executive director of Common Cause here in Hawaii, and our report of the judiciary’s lobbying activities had launched a series of investigations.

News had been building. The judiciary had announced appointment of a special blue ribbon committee to investigate. Then, on August 14, 1985, just one day later, the State Ethics Commission followed by publicly confirming an investigation of its own.

The combined investigations eventually led to major reforms in the courts, and also created a political rift between the courts and the legislature, as many legislators were personally indebted to Tom “Fat Boy” Okuda, the court administrator at the heart of the scandal. That political divide lasted for many years.

You can follow the development of the scandal in my collection of news article about Common Cause during this period. The front page article shown in the photo can be seen on pages 15 & 16.

August 1985

→ 1 CommentTags: History

A “Dear Joe” letter regarding ethics

May 27th, 2015 · 4 Comments

My Civil Beat column today is a response to House Speaker Joe Souki’s letter to the State Ethics Commission complaining about its opinions over the past several years that have tightened ethics restrictions relating to gifts and other matters (“Ian Lind: Dear Joe, If You’re Concerned About Ethics Problems Look in the Mirror“).

Souki’s letter can be read here.

Souki’s blast was delivered amid rumored turmoil within the ethics commission, where one faction of commissioners is believed to be trying to garner the votes necessary to terminate the agency’s director, Les Kondo.

The commission meets later this morning, and the agenda includes a discussion of Kondo’s job evaluation, which has been ongoing for several months.

My take on it is that Souki’s complaints are misdirected. For example, he complains that the commission has issued guidance on gifts based on a liberal construction of the ethics law, meaning that objectives and intent of the law is considered along with the actual wording.

Well, the speaker can complain, but that’s exactly what the statute requires. Here’s how I put it in the column:

But take a look at the ethics code, which is found in Chapter 84, Hawaii Revised Statutes. And right there at the top, in the very first section:

“§84-1 Construction. This chapter shall be liberally construed to promote high standards of ethical conduct in state government.”

The Ethics Commission didn’t write that. It was made part of the ethics law from the start by the Legislature. And when the commission applies the law liberally “to promote high standards of ethical conduct,” it’s doing its job as the law requires.

Souki also expresses some gift anxiety, saying that he should be free to accept any gift from any source as long as it doesn’t cost more than $200.

Well, that’s not what the law currently provides.

My suggestion to old Joe: If you don’t want to have to worry about whether a gift is proper and legal or not, just ban all gifts from lobbyists. Period. That’s about as bright a line as one can get, and should allow Souki and other legislators to sleep well at night. But I doubt whether the legislature is prepared to take that simple step.

In any case, my overall sense is that the commission has raised the ethics bar in recent years, boosting the standards that employees and public officials must meet. I would think that’s a welcome trend, despite some rough edges.

So, do read my column if you have access to Civil Beat.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Ethics · Politics