“In the Complaint filed by Plaintiff Abigail Kawananakoa, Plaintiff asked the court to enforce certain of the city’s standards of conduct, despite the comprehensive scheme in the Revised Charter of the City and County of Honolulu establishing the primary role of the Ethics Commission to investigate, conduct hearings, render decisions, and issue civil fines and make recommendations for disciplinary action if appropriate. Plaintiff also asked the court to invalidate certain measures that had been adopted by the City Council in connection with the rail project.
Today, the Court ruled that Plaintiff did not have a private right of action to seek the relief she was requesting. The Court also ruled that the City Council votes challenged by Plaintiff were legislative actions and that the court would not review those legislative actions. As a result of those rulings, the Court dismissed the Complaint in its entirety.
The city is very pleased with the Court’s ruling. It provides assurance to the people of the city that the City Council’s legislative actions, many of which involve complex policy decisions, such as the rail project, will not be overturned by the judicial branch of government based on an alleged violation of the standards of conduct. Today’s decision allows the rail project to proceed without further delay, which would have resulted in additional costs to the city’s taxpayers.
Importantly, the City Charter declares, as a matter of policy, that the city’s elected and appointed officers shall demonstrate by their example the highest standards of ethical conduct, so that the public is able to have trust and confidence in the integrity of government. However, the Charter provides a comprehensive regulatory scheme that clearly establishes that it is the city’s Ethics Commission that should administer the city’s standards of conduct. While the Hawai’i Supreme Court has recognized the clear benefits to the public from the existence of those standards of conduct, the court has said that enforcement of those standards nevertheless does not lie with the courts but with the Ethics Commission.”