UH paying up to $75K to two law firms in Stevie Wonder concert - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

UH paying up to $75K to two law firms in Stevie Wonder concert aftermath

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The University of Hawaii will pay one Honolulu law firm up to $50,000 for an investigation into the failed Stevie Wonder concert, while it plans to pay another law firm as much as $25,000 for additional legal services connected with a State Senate investigation into the fiasco.

UH hired the firm Cades Schutte to investigate the failed fundraising concert and the firm produced a 57-page report plus many more pages in attachments. 

Thursday afternoon, UH released a contract for those legal services, revealing UH will pay Cades Schutte up to $50,000 for the investigation.   

The contract calls for UH to pay the firm $275 an hour for the services of attorney Dennis Chong Kee, a partner at Cades who produced what UH called the fact finders' report.  He is scheduled to testify at hearing Monday of the State Senate Committee on Accountability, which is investigating the canceled concert and other issues about UH management and spending. 

Another Cades partner who worked on the investigation, attorney Calvert Chipchase, will be paid a $240 hourly rate, according to the contract. 

UH has also hired a second Honolulu law firm, Torkildson Katz, agreeing to pay them as much as $25,000.  The contract called for partner Robert Katz to be paid $300 an hour. Katz, a respected labor attorney, worked for UH as a consultant several years ago during labor negotiations with the faculty union, a UH source said.

UH released a statement Thursday that said Torkildson Katz is "... helping the university respond to the substantial senate committee information requests and preparing for the briefing; and preparing and advising on responses to public and media inquiries." 

That might explain why it took seven days for UH to respond to Hawaii News Now's questions sent Sept. 13, asking about why it hired the Torkildson Katz firm and how much UH was paying the firm.

Wednesday afternoon, the Torkildson Katz law firm delivered ten large black binders full of UH documents to the office of State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-Moanalua, Aiea, Halawa Valley), who is chairing a hearing Monday investigating the failed concert. 

The Torkildson firm was also hired to redact the 57-page investigative report produced by Cades Schutte, as well as documents requested by the Senate and the media, taking out information that UH felts should remain secret for privacy reasons.

"Among other tasks, the firm has assisted with redacting documents related to the investigation to avoid interfering with the law enforcement investigation and to protect the university from potential lawsuits from third parties," according to a UH statement released Thursday. "It is important to note that aside from the inadvertent redaction of [former UH Manoa Chancellor] Virginia Hinshaw's name [from the Cades investigative report], no UH employees' names were redacted from the report in the spirit of transparency." 

"The university hired outside counsel because of the potential conflict of interest involving one or more members of the Office of General Counsel," the UH statement said.  At least one in-house UH attorney, Ryan Akamine, worked extensively on the concert, repeatedly raising concerns about whether UH had obtained insurance for the event and whether the booking had been properly confirmed before $200,000 in UH funds was wired to a Miami talent firm, money that UH has been unable to locate.

"When you pay lawyers to redact something, which, first of all, many of us disagree with whether or not it should have been redacted," said Sam Slom, (R-Hawaii Kai, Aina Haina, Kahala), one of five senators on the committee on accountability that begins hearings Monday at 1 p.m.   

"Why are we adding up all these costs?  Somebody's got to pay them.  The taxpayers are paying them, the students are paying them.  And it really doesn't add anything to either the image or the goals and the mission of the university," Slom said. 

Slom said it's troubling that UH is hiring two law firms. 

"I'm sure that there are perfectly good reasons where you use a public relations firm or an attorney.  But I think we've got overkill in this case," Slom said. 

"It's not just the lawyers.  It the PR people," Slom added. "Look at all the public relations firms we have.  And it's their job to defend and to block any inquiries to the people that they're representing." 

UH said neither law firm has been paid anything yet, because the firms have not submitted any invoices yet. 

In addition to 43 public relations staffers who work on the UH payroll at the university's 10 campuses across the state, the UH has contracts with two PR firms.  One of the firms is paid $2,500 a month, according to documents released to Hawaii News Now.  The UH has not released the second contract, nearly one month after Hawaii News Now requested it on Aug. 23.    

Kim asked UH for the number and salaries of UH public relations staff, plus the amount of money spent on outside PR and law firms, as part of the Senate's investigation, which has widened into a more general review of UH operations.  

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