Maui lawmaker to resign amid ethical questions about potential role in wildfire litigation

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Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 12:41 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 30, 2023 at 4:28 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Maui lawmaker announced Wednesday he’ll step down after raising eyebrows — and ethical questions — for his potential role as a lawyer for wildfire victims.

Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran said his final day would be Oct. 31.

He characterized his departure as a retirement, saying it’s been an “honor to represent my friends and family in my Central Maui communities in the State Senate and the State House.”

“As we know, the Maui community — including members of my extended clan who lived and worked in West Maui — have suffered tremendous losses, including losing loved ones,” he continued, in an emailed statement. “Some, to this day, are still not identified or found.”

Agaran’s decision to resign comes after he was pictured on a flyer for a community discussion with members of his law firm. Agaran is a partner at Takatani Agaran Jorgensen & Wildman, which has partnered with Morgan & Morgan, a firm with offices in multiple states.

HNN reported on the ethical questions on Tuesday.

Given the high-profile nature of the lawsuits, and the potential implications of the wildfire for legislative discussions, questions were being raised over Agaran’s role in the flyer.

Policy experts say it’s not unusual for legislators who also practice law to sue the state.

But if that happens here, there could be ethical concerns because Agaran is vice chair of the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee, which controls the budget.

If he ended up representing fire victims in a lawsuit, experts said that could put him in a position where he’d have to choose between constituents and clients.

Experts call Agaran’s position “a gray area.”

Agaran’s departure comes as Maui is facing a monumental recovery effort in the wake of wildfires that devastated Lahaina and destroyed more than 20 homes in Kula.

Given Agaran’s departure, the Democratic Party of Hawaii will select three potential candidates to fill his position until an election. The governor will have 60 days to fill the vacancy.