Got a bit of a jolt during the most recent Liquor Control Adjudication Board hearing. It came at the beginning of the third and last case of the March 6, 2008 hearing—Five Palms Beach Grill in Wailea was up on one count of getting caught in an LC minor decoy sting operation. But before either Five Palms’ president or attorney could open his mouth and plead, board member Glenn Kunitake leaned forward to his microphone.
“I’d like to recuse myself,” he told board Chairman Donald Fujii. “I have a direct banking relationship with the licensee.”
This was surprising, but not so much, given Kunitake’s background. A banker for the last 30 years, he’s currently a vice president/regional manager for Hawai`i National Bank (his 2006 Board and Commission Application Form says he’s been with the bank since 1993).
Given the fact that a banker has a direct interest in the financial welfare of his client, Kunitake’s decision not to ask questions or take part in the discussion of a possible sanction of Five Palms was clearly justified. But it was what Chairman Fujii said next that surprised me.
“Thank you,” he told Kunitake. “But we’d like you to stay.”
This was odd because of the nature of Adjudication Board deliberations, which are done in secret. No court reporter takes down the minutes of deliberation sessions and, except for Board Secretary Sharon Ito, no member of the public or even LC department staff is privy to their discussions.
Some panels (I’m thinking Mainland here) ask members who recuse themselves from a particular agenda item to leave the room entirely. Their mere presence in deliberation, the thinking goes, could affect the non-conflicted members.
But in Maui County, that’s apparently not necessary. Section 08-102-33 of the Rules of the Liquor Commission simply says conflicted members “shall not participate in the discussion or vote” on the offending issue.