Former state Public Utilities Commission Chairman Carlito Caliboso, who cast the deciding vote to the advantage of a wind energy project three years ago, now is an attorney representing Castle & Cooke Properties, which is developing the project on Lanai. A thorough review is needed to determine whether his representation constitutes a conflict of interest in violation of rules governing attorney conduct.
Caliboso’s representation of Castle & Cooke does not violate the ethics law covering former state employees. That required a one-year cooling-off period between his departure from the PUC in August 2011 and his interacting with the PUC on behalf of Castle & Cooke.
Whether he violated the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct by lawyers is another matter. The rules prevent lawyers from misusing confidential government information acquired as a public employee.
PUC Chairwoman Hermina Morita has rightly expressed concern about Caliboso’s status. She cited three PUC dockets dealing with the proposed Lanai wind project in which Caliboso was involved during his tenure as chairman.
In a 2-1 vote in November 2010, the PUC commissioners exempted Hawaiian Electric Co. from normal competitive bidding to secure 400 megawatts of wind energy-generating capacity on Lanai and Molokai as part of the “Big Wind” project. The proposal included Castle & Cooke developing the Lanai part of the project for electricity to be transmitted to Oahu by undersea cable. Caliboso cast one of the two affirmative votes.
Since leaving the PUC for a local law firm representing Castle & Cooke, Caliboso has been active in his interactions with the PUC. Morita noted that Caliboso filed nine documents on behalf of Castle & Cooke in a new docket opened last month. That docket was opened to review several major developments in the Lanai project, including Castle & Cooke’s sale of its majority ownership at stake in Lanai to billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison.
An important question is whether Caliboso, as the PUC chairman, was part of conversations that included “inside information” to which the public lacked access, said Randy Roth, a University of Hawaii law professor whose specialties include lawyers’ professional responsibility. Or, Roth said, whether Caliboso’s 2010 vote in favor of Castle & Cooke was “influenced by an expectation that he would be hired.”
“There is some irony, and no small amount of poetic justice, that the guy who gave Castle & Cooke a waiver from competitive bidding … is now being paid by Castle & Cooke to defend it,” said Sally Kaye, a member of Friends of Lanai, which opposes the Big Wind project.
Caliboso said earlier this month that he is “confident the (current) commissioners have integrity and will be fair, independent and objective. So I don’t think there will be a problem.”
That’s not good enough. Morita asked Caliboso in a letter last week to “provide written proof” that his conduct is in compliance with those rules for lawyers, giving him until Friday to respond. Morita should go further, asking the state Supreme Court, which administers the lawyers’ rules of conduct, to investigate the matter.
In the meantime, Caliboso should recuse himself, avoiding any role with the PUC concerning Castle & Cooke. His continued representation will only cast more doubt on the integrity of the already controversial Big Wind project.
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