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A Democrat state senator in Hawaii has announced his resignation over a potential conflict of interest between his political position and legal profession as lawsuits loom over the devastating Maui wildfires that left at least 115 people dead and hundreds more missing.
Maui Senator Gil Keith-Agaran will step down by October 31 after local media outlets raised ethical concerns.
According to the Honolulu Civil Beat, the controversy started after Keith-Agaran was featured in a flier for a community discussion on “Maui Wildfire Impact” with Takitani Agaran Jorgensen & Wildman and several other law firms. As vice chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, legal experts said that his political office might give him non-public information that could help him if he took on any cases related to the Maui fires.
“I believe that this decision best serves the interests of the Maui people especially given what they have gone through over the last three weeks, and what they continue to experience,” Keith-Agaran said in a statement.
“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. Some, to this day, are still not identified or found,” he added. “The choice for me has always been and will always be my family and community, and this decision is consistent with that overriding value.”
There are expected to be a plethora of lawsuits following the devastating fires, which could lead to ethical questions if his firm is involved in litigation.
“I’ve always had a legal practice, my professional responsibilities are to my clients so I would pick my clients,” Keith-Agaran told Civil Beat earlier this month when asked if he would prioritize his law firm or political responsibilities.
Democrat Governor Josh Green has 60 days to name a replacement after Keith-Agaran officially vacates his government role.
The lawsuits have already begun, with Maui County suing the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), alleging “intentional and malicious” mismanagement of power lines led to the blaze that eventually turned much of the town of Lahaina to ash.
“Defendants knew of the extreme fire danger that the high wind gusts posed to their overhead electrical infrastructure, particularly during red flag conditions,” the lawsuit said.
Hawaiian Electric responded to the lawsuit, saying it is “very disappointed that Maui County chose this litigious path while the investigation is still unfolding.”