Hawaii Supreme Court chides state’s legal moves on water after deadly Maui wildfire

HONOLULU– Hawaii’s attorney general’s office must pay attorney fees for using last year’s Maui wildfire tragedy to file a bad-faith petition blaming a state court judge for a lack of water for firefighting, ruled the Supreme Court of Hawaii.

It appears that the state “attempted to use the most horrific event in the history of the state to further its interests,” according to the ruling issued Thursday.

The day after the historic town of Lahaina burned in a deadly fire in August, the attorney general’s office, representing the Board of Land and Natural Resources, filed a petition alleging that the stream protections established by Judge Jeffrey Crabtree in East -Maui had caused the water shortage.

“Of course we paid attention,” said Judge Todd Eddins’ unanimous opinion. “The Ministry of the Attorney General initiated an original procedure during an unthinkable human event. The petition advanced the idea that legal events impacted the nation’s most devastating wildfire.”

The Sierra Club of Hawaii complained that the state exploited the tragedy to help a private company monopolize water, noting that East Maui’s reservoirs were of no use to West Maui, where a wildfire killed at least 101 people took his life.

Maui County said it had more than enough water to fight the fires, the ruling said.

A deputy attorney general declined to “reverse” the charges, according to the ruling.

The state’s refusal to retract the baseless claims, the weakness of its request for extraordinary relief and its use of the Maui tragedy support a finding of frivolity and bad faith, the ruling said.

The attorney general’s office said in a statement that it “disagrees with the court’s characterization and its conclusions.” It later added that it will comply with the order.

Sierra Club attorney David Kimo Frankel said he estimates refuting the state’s claims will cost about $40,000.

The ruling comes the day after Attorney General Anne Lopez released a report on the fires that said a widespread communications blackout left authorities in the dark and residents had no emergency alerts.