Former state Public Utilities Commission Chairman Carlito Caliboso said Thursday he doesn’t believe his legal work for a wind energy developer is a conflict of interest, but will recuse himself from the case anyway “to avoid any further distraction.”
Current PUC Chairwoman Hermina Morita asked Caliboso in an Aug. 15 letter to explain his representation of Castle & Cooke Properties, which is seeking approval to build a Lanai wind energy project that Caliboso ruled on during his tenure as PUC chairman. Caliboso left the PUC in August 2011. His current involvement with Castle & Cooke is in Docket No. 2013-0168, which the PUC opened in July to review the progress of the company’s proposed Lanai project.
In her letter, Morita quoted passages from the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct dealing with conflicts of interest for lawyers, and asked Caliboso to provide written proof of his compliance. One of the passages states that a “lawyer shall not represent a private The former state Public Utilities Commission chairman said he does not believe there is a conflict of interest in his work for a wind energy project client in connection with a matter in which the lawyer participated personally and substantially as a public officer or employee.”
Morita cited three dockets related to Castle & Cooke’s planned Lanai wind project that Caliboso was involved in as PUC chairman.
In his response, Caliboso focused on the use of the word “matter” in the rules of professional conduct. He said his current work for Castle & Cooke “is not the same matter as the matters” dealt with in the three earlier dockets.
“Accordingly, I believe that there is no violation of, and I am in compliance with, the applicable rules of the HRPC,” Caliboso wrote. “It is disturbing that the controversy over my participation in this new docket appears to be clouding the review of the Lanai Wind Project ordered by the Commission in Docket 2013-0168,” Caliboso wrote.
“Accordingly, in the best interest of our client Castle & Cooke, and out of respect and deference to the Commission’s concerns as evidenced by the contents of the Aug. 15 letter, I hereby recuse myself from any further appearance before the Commission and participation in this proceeding to avoid any further distraction that may result from my participation in this preceding,” Caliboso wrote.
Any further documents filed with the PUC on the behalf of Castle & Cooke will be handled by other lawyers at his firm, Caliboso said. That is allowed under the rules of professional conduct as long as the lawyer with the potential conflict of interest is “timely screened from any participation in the matter and is apportioned no part of the fee therefrom.”
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