Ozawa: Conflicts of interest tainted state Supreme Court’s judgment

2 candidates at center of City Council race set for special election wage war of words

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A City Council candidate whose narrow win was thrown out by the state Supreme Court said Saturday that three justices should have recused themselves from the case — and suggested they didn’t make their decision on the merits of the challenge alone.

Incumbent Councilman Trevor Ozawa is facing a special election after a Supreme Court decision Friday. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Incumbent Councilman Trevor Ozawa is facing a special election after a Supreme Court decision Friday. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Tommy Waters challenged his opponent's narrow win in a City Council race. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Tommy Waters challenged his opponent's narrow win in a City Council race. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

In a news conference Saturday, Trevor Ozawa said that three justices — Sabrina McKenna, Richard Pollack and Michael Wilson — were all nominated by his challenger Tommy Waters, a former state representative.

“I’m sure they haven’t forgotten about that,” Ozawa said.

Ozawa also said he thinks Waters is simply unable to “accept defeat” and is putting his own interests ahead of the district and taxpayers. The district hasn’t had representation because of the challenge to the election results.

Waters, in a dueling news conference Saturday, called the idea that three of the five state Supreme Court judges somehow played favorites “ridiculous.”

“The Supreme Court has a duty and obligation to decide the case based on the law," Waters said.

The state Judiciary also issued a response to Ozawa’s claims, saying that judges are guided by judicial conduct guidelines that help them determine whether or not to recuse themselves.

The Judiciary provided additional information Sunday, saying:

"Mr. Waters joined the Judicial Selection Commission (JSC) in April 2011, and he had no involvement in Justice Sabrina McKenna’s January 2011 appointment to the Supreme Court, as represented by Mr. Ozawa.

Mr. Waters did not nominate Justices Richard Pollack and Michael Wilson to the Supreme Court, as stated by Mr. Ozawa. Mr. Waters was one of nine members of the JSC, which submitted lists of finalists to Governor Abercrombie who made the appointments, subject to Senate confirmation. Mr. Waters’ tenure on the JSC ended in early 2014.

...Mr. Ozawa was able to but did not object to any justice’s participation in this case before the final decision."

The war of words between Ozawa and Waters comes as the two gear up for a special election for the City Council seat that covers east Honolulu.

In the general election, Ozawa — the incumbent — narrowly bested Waters in the race for that seat, garnering just 22 more votes at the end of the night.

But on Friday, the state Supreme Court invalidated the results of the election in an unanimous decision, saying that officials improperly counted 350 late absentee ballots.

Despite the ruling, Ozawa maintains the late absentee ballots were rightly included in the final results.

“The U.S. Postal Service collected the 350 ballots in dispute prior to the 6 p.m. deadline," he said. “Each of them was scanned in and they were held safely at the US Postal Service at the airport for the City Clerk’s office."

HNN political analyst Colin Moore said a special election under these circumstances is unprecedented.

“I think there is going to be a certain amount of fatigue for voters because they experienced this intense race already and now they are going to be told now they have to re-vote," he said.

He added, “I think that means a lot of people won’t even bother to show up.”

It could be months before a special election is held. In the meantime, the City Council has the ability to choose an interim council member for the open seat.

If the council can’t agree, which Moore says is likely, it’s up to the mayor to pick someone.

”I think he probably will appoint Tommy Waters if it is up to the mayor to appoint," Moore said.

But Waters says someone else should be appointed until the dispute is resolved.

“I think that would be the best — get somebody neutral in there to do the job and let the election process play out," Waters said.

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