As the contested case hearing over a permit to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea drew to a close, one of the last witnesses to testify was Mililani Trask, a practicing attorney well known for her involvement in Hawaiian sovereignty movements. Trask testifed on behalf of Joseph Camara, one of the challengers in the contested case.
For years, Trask was the leader – the kia `aina – of Ka Lahui Hawai`i, a movement to build a Hawaiian nation. She was also involved in the Pele Defense Fund when it was protesting the development of geothermal energy on the Big Island in the 1980s and 1990s. Trask has lobbied for years to gain recognition and rights for indigenous people worldwide.
During cross examination, Ian Sandison, one of three attorneys representing the University of Hawai`i in the contested case, explored Trask’s relationship with the Sierra Club in efforts that began in the 1990s to oppose further telescope development. He asked whether Trask knew Marti Townsend, the current executive director of the group’s Hawai`i chapter.
Camara objected, but hearing officer Riki May Amano overruled him, agreeing with Sandison that the questioning was “foundation for impeachment and goes to bias.”
Trask acknowledged that she knew Townsend.
Sandison then showed Trask what he had marked as the university’s exhibit A 151, a copy of an article Environment Hawai`i published on its website in February regarding Townsend’s testimony during the contested case hearing and Trask’s own comments on the article.
When presented with the exhibit, Trask told Sandison she hadn’t actually ever seen the article.
“You’ve never seen this article before?” Sandison asked.
“I don’t think so,” Trask said. “You’re saying I was interviewed for this?”
Pressed again by Sandison about her familiarity with the exhibit, she said, “I don’t think I saw the article. I just talked to Pat. Because this, Environment Hawai`i, isn’t this Pat Tummons’s? …
“Yeah. I remember having a talk with her. It could have been this. Not Marti. But Pat. She was looking at this. She was questioning some of the statements that had been made by Sierra.”
Sandison called Trask’s attention again to the portion of the exhibit that appeared to be a response to the article made on February 7. “You see that?” he asked her. “It says Mililani B. Trask. Is that you?”
Sandison: “Does it say, ‘Aloha, Pat’?”
Trask didn’t answer, but proceeded instead to read from the comment: “ ‘This is not the first time that Marti Townsend hasn’t been honest and truthful about issues of critical import to Hawaiians and our culture.’ Yes.”
Yuklin Aluli, the attorney representing KaHEA and on whose behalf Townsend had testified as a witness in January, interrupted the questioning. “This is being offered to denigrate the testimony of a witness we offered,” she said. “We object to its introduction in terms of its attempt to impeach someone who’s not here – our witness, Marti Townsend.”
Because Trask was not testifying on behalf of KaHEA, Amano told her that her objection “is out of place at this time… The question is whether or not this witness wrote this statement.”
Once again, Sandison asked Trask, “Did you review this article and did you write these comments.”
“No, no,” Trask protested. “I didn’t review the article. I didn’t see it. But I did have a conversation with Pat a while back about some of the statements that she was getting in terms of Mauna Kea. She was questioning whether or not they were accurate.”
Amano pressed Trask for a straight answer: “Very specifically, is that comment, which is indicated as a reply and that appears to bear your typewritten name, did that come from you?”
“Yes,” Trask said. “But it wasn’t in response to the article, because I never saw it. I had a call from Pat.”
“I got it,” Amano said.
“And in it do you question the truthfulness and honesty of Ms. Townsend and also the Sierra Club?”
The following day, Camara asked Trask about the article during his redirect questioning – the opportunity given to those who present witnesses to repair damage done during cross examination.
“You mentioned that you didn’t particularly remember that article?” Camara asked.
“That is my recollection,” Trask replied. “I used to subscribe to Environment Hawai`i for many years. I got it at my office. And then I stopped. Then they went out of publication. But I guess they were on the internet.
“What I recall, and this was just recently, there was a big brouhaha about comments [of] Marti Townsend. Someone called me about it and I gave them a comment. When I looked in my computer – because I just saw the exhibit yesterday – I have contact information for Pat. I don’t have any emails or graphics of the environment today. But I did have a really bad computer hacking crash a little while ago. When I looked at the comment, the truth is, it pretty much reflects my mana`o [thinking].
“It’s not Sierra Club. It’s incorrect to attribute my comments and sentiments to Sierra Club. But Marti Townsend – I hold her in very little esteem.”
— Patricia Tummons
A Statement from the Editor
Following the testimony of Marti Townsend, the executive director of the Sierra Club, Hawai`i Chapter, in the TMT contested case hearing, I wrote a short article about several of the more dubious statements Townsend had made. Townsend was asked for comment on each of the points mentioned in the article but she chose not to respond.
This write-up was posted in the online EH-Xtra column of our website home page, http://www.environment-hawaii.org.
Within a few days of posting the article, Mililani Trask wrote a comment, in which she made several unflattering statements about Townsend and the Sierra Club. The EH-Xtra article and Trask’s comment on it were introduced during the questioning of Trask by Ian Sandison on February 28.
Trask’s description of the manner in which her comments to the article were generated does not comport with the facts.
At no point did I or anyone associated with Environment Hawai`i call Trask to ask for her comments. I did not email her about this, nor did anyone else associated with the publication. I have had no interactions with her for several years. Her statements stating that I did approach her, whether by phone, email, or any other means, in relation to the EH-Xtra article are simply not true.
It may be the case that someone called her about the Townsend article and she gave them a comment. But I have absolutely no reason to believe that anyone other than Trask posted the comment that was made on the article.
Finally, her statement that Environment Hawai`i stopped publishing is altogether false. We have been published continuously, every month, since July 1990.
— Patricia Tummons