HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Before serving as a hearings officer in the Haleakala Telescope contested case, attorney Lane Ishida had never done any legal work for the University of Hawaii.
But two years after he issued an order giving the controversial, $300 million project the green light, the university awarded him with four contracts for legal work, budgeting $110,000 for the work. Three of those contracts were issued during a two-day period in October 2014.
Native Hawaiians who opposed the project said the contracts looks like a reward for his ruling.
"It just smells. It makes the process a stinky, a smelly process," said Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte.
"It just (reinforces) the disconnect and distrust of the process."
But UH officials said there's no connection. They said Ishida has completed three of the four contracts and has billed about $50,000 for the work, not the full $110,000.
"There is nothing unethical about what's being done here right now. He was hired properly," said U.H. spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.
"These kinds of allegations are groundless, really unfair."
The Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, which is halfway built, will be the world's largest telescope of its kind. The U.H. is part of a team of universities and research organizations that are building the observatory.
Critics have sued to stop it because it's being built on state conservation land that many Hawaiians consider sacred.
Ishida wasn't the first hearings officer appointed by the Land Department for the Haleakala telescope case. The previous one was removed after he complained of being pressured by UH officials.
UH officials said Ishida's hiring was vetted by panel of lawyers and was based on a objective scoring system. They deny it was a reward for approving the telescope.
"That we would provide $50,000 of work to an individual two or three years later, that's just ridiculous," said Meisenzahl.
Ishida declined comment.