August 21, 2013

Questions arise over Caliboso’s new job; The former PUC chairman had voted on an energy project he now represents

By Alan Yonan Jr. | Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Aug 21, 2013 |

Carlito Caliboso, the former state Public Utilities Commission chairman who now represents a wind energy proj­ect that he voted on during his PUC tenure, is being asked by authorities to explain why switching sides doesn’t represent a conflict of interest.

Caliboso left the PUC in August 2011 to take a job at a local law firm specializing in energy and regulated utilities. Last month he began filing documents with the PUC on behalf of Castle & Cooke Properties, the company developing a planned wind energy proj­ect on Lanai.

Caliboso headed the PUC in 2010 when it voted 2-1 to waive competitive bidding requirements and allowed the Lanai project to move forward.

Current PUC Chairwoman Hermina Morita sent a letter to Caliboso on Thursday citing the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct, which restrict the ability of lawyers to represent clients in matters in which they were previously involved as a government employee.

Morita asked Caliboso to “please provide written proof of your authority and qualifications to act as legal counsel for Castle & Cooke Properties Inc., including your compliance with the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct.”

Morita gave Caliboso until Friday to reply. She noted in her letter that under Hawaii Administrative Rules, the PUC has the authority to require anyone appearing before the commission to prove their qualifications.

Caliboso said he would reserve his comments for his letter to the PUC.

One of the purposes of the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct is to prevent lawyers from misusing confidential government information acquired during their time as a public employee. Morita cited three PUC dockets dealing with the proposed Lanai wind project in which Caliboso was involved in during his tenure as chairman.

The PUC in July opened a new docket to review the progress of the proposed Lanai project in light of several major developments, including Castle & Cooke’s sale of its majority ownership stake in Lanai to billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. Morita’s letter listed nine documents of a substantive nature in the new docket that Caliboso filed between Aug. 2 and Aug. 12 as Castle & Cooke’s attorney.

The Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct are administered by the state Supreme Court and spell out circumstances that can constitute a conflict of interest for lawyers. The rules are more restrictive than the state’s ethics law, which governs “post-employment” interaction between all government workers who leave their jobs for the private sector and the agency for which they previously worked.

Caliboso’s representation of Castle & Cooke does not violate that ethics law since a minimum one-year cooling-off period elapsed between his departure from the PUC and his representation of Castle & Cooke.

The Rules of Professional Conduct include several exceptions, including one that allows the disqualified lawyer’s firm to continue representing the client “only if the disqualified lawyer is timely screened from any participation in the matter and is apportioned no part of the fee therefrom.” In addition, the rules include an exception for cases in which the affected government agency gives its consent for the lawyer to continue representing the client.

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