HONOLULU — A member of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources that approved a controversial giant telescope improperly contacted a state Supreme Court justice weighing the fate of the project.
Justice Michael Wilson filed a notice saying he didn’t read emails he received from Sam Gon last month. The notice reminds parties in the Thirty Meter Telescope case that communicating with justices is prohibited.
The first email thanked Wilson for participating in an unrelated conservation event committee, Gon told The Associated Press Thursday. The email also asked if Wilson wanted to know his thoughts on the telescope case, Gon said.
“I had forgot that there are ex-parte communication issues with the contested case and that he’s serving on the Supreme Court and has to make a decision on that,” Gon said. “I said, I wonder if you would be interested in my thoughts on the matter. As soon as he saw that he sent back an email saying that there are ex-parte communications issues with this.”
Gon said he then sent a second emailing apologizing to Wilson.
“I fully respect the law that requires no communications on issues before the Supreme Court with anyone that’s involved in that,” Gon said. “I’m glad that Mike Wilson chose to send out an advisory.”
When asked if he could provide copies of the emails, Gon said the state attorney general’s office advised him to destroy them. A spokeswoman for the office said Gon was not advised to destroy emails. On Friday, Gon denied initially saying he was told to destroy the emails and declined further comment.
Gon was one of the Board of Land and Natural Resources members who voted to grant the project a construction permit. Opponents of the project say it will desecrate land held sacred by Native Hawaiians. Those who support it say the telescope will bring educational and economic opportunities to the state.
The court is considering an appeal of the permit decision.
Judicial code of conduct rules prohibit what’s known as “ex-parte communications,” or communicating about cases outside of court proceedings, explained David Forman, director of the environmental law program at the University of Hawaii law school. He also teaches a course on appellate advocacy.
“You want to have everything above board,” Forman said. “Everything in open court, a pleading, a filing.”
Prohibiting outside communication maintains the integrity of the judicial process, Forman said.