Hawaii ethics board finds no conflict in telescope cases

Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth
Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth(HNN File)
Published: Dec. 13, 2019 at 5:50 AM HST
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KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — The Hawaii County Board of Ethics ruled a prosecutor does not have a conflict of interest in cases involving protesters arrested for blocking a giant telescope’s construction.

The board unanimously ruled Big Island prosecutor Mitch Roth does not have a conflict due to his family’s employment connections to the Thirty Meter Telescope project, West Hawaii Today reported Thursday.

Although the ethics board found no conflict, member David Wiseman said Roth should withdraw from any involvement in the cases “in the interest of prudence and maintaining the public’s confidence in the system of government.”

Roth’s son works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an employee of the California Institute of Technology.

Caltech is among a group of universities in California and Canada include in a company with other international partners planning to build the $1.4 billion telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea, a mountain some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.

Roth, who was elected in 2012 and 2016, said previously he was not aware of Caltech’s relationship with the telescope. He also said his wife’s employment at another Big Island telescope was not a conflict.

Roth asked for opinions from the the county ethics board and the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

He turned 30 cases over to the state attorney general pending the board’s decision. Those arrested were charged with misdemeanor counts of obstructing a governmental operation.

While the land on Mauna Kea is controlled by the state, the county has the responsibility to prosecute cases there, Roth said.

Flying prosecutors from Honolulu to try cases is expensive for the county and Roth could turn cases over to his chief deputy to avoid any interference, he said.

“It was never the intent that I would go in court and prosecute these cases,” Roth said, noting that his office handles 17,000 cases per year. “I give my deputies a lot of discretion.”

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