- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - The state is sticking with its decision to have a retired Hilo Circuit Court judge oversee the next contested case hearing for the Thirty Meter Telescope’s land use permit after an attorney challenged their choice alleging there was a conflict of interest.

The state Board of Land and Natural Resources announced Friday that there wasn’t enough evidence to disqualify Riki May Amano, who was selected in April as hearings officer for the case, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/1TyE4Eo).

The decision comes after Attorney Richard Wurdeman, who represents a group that sued to stop construction of the $1.4 billion observatory on Mauna Kea, questioned the selection because Amano and her husband have paid $85 for a membership at the Imiloa Astronomy Center each year since 2012. The center is connected to the University of Hawaii at Hilo, which is the official TMT permit applicant and supports astronomy on Mauna Kea.

“No reasonable person would infer that the possibility of this ‘benefit’ (‘Imiloa family membership) would override the hearing officer’s duty to make an impartial recommendation to the board,” the board said in a press release.

Amano said she has not been involved in management or oversight of the center, adding that she will not renew her family membership when it expires May 24.

The board said it accepted Amano’s explanation that she did not know the center was connected to the UH-Hilo. It also rejected another argument from Wurdeman that his clients’ right to due process had been violated because they were not involved in the hiring process. The board said it determined its closed-door decision to have Chairwoman Suzanne Case choose the hearings officers did not violate the state’s open meetings law because it was exercising adjudicatory functions.

Wurdeman could not be immediately reached for comment.

The contested case hearing will be taking place after the Hawaii Supreme Court invalidated the permit for construction of the telescope in December. The court found that the granting of a land use permit by the state prior to a contested case hearing violated the due process rights of the Thirty Meter Telescope’s opponents.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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