Steven Jacobson, the hearing officer in the first contested case involving the Conservation District Use Permit for the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope, shocked all involved when he announced, after making his finding, that he had been subject to pressure from the office of Governor Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye. For most observers following cases such as this, the shock came not so much from what Jacobson said as the fact that he said it at all. Usually, the involvement of people in high elective office is suspected but rarely discussed in the open.
Jacobson’s disclosures were not the first to claim political involvement in the telescope’s permitting process. Even before the contested case began, the former superintendent of Haleakala National Park, Marilyn Parris, said in a sworn statement that one of Inouye’s aides had “strongly encouraged [her] to go along with the construction of the ATST.” When she objected, she stated, the aide indicated he “would go to the Secretary of the Interior to override [her] objections.”In light of the statements of Jacobson and Parris, KOH sued the University of Hawai`i under the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act to obtain documents, including emails, relating to the project. (KOH states elsewhere that more than 4,000 pages of documents were copied, “at considerable expense” to KOH.)KOH’s appeal of the Land Board’s 2012 decision, which cites some of those records, provides details on just how some of that pressure was applied.
Even before Jacobson’s findings were released – finding, among other things, that KOH was not entitled to a contested case hearing – Jennifer Sabas, an aide to Inouye, had called Land Board Chair William Aila, KOH discovered.
In the appeal to 1st Circuit Court of the Land Board’s November 2012 decision affirming its earlier vote to approve the telescope permit, attorney David Frankel writes: “Sabas was clearly acting as the applicant’s [University of Hawai`i] agent. Because he was worried about the loss of funding, the applicant’s Mike Maberry specifically asked Sabas to talk to the hearing officer’s boss’s boss, Loretta Fuddy, the director of the Department of Health. Sabas admitted that she could ‘carry the uh message’ in meetings regarding the ATST…. Maberry thanked Sabas for all her ‘help and support.’ Sabas was quite worried about ensuring approval of the ATST. ‘This will be bad if we lose it.’”
Bruce Coppa, Abercrombie’s chief of staff, also asked Aila to “please help” with the contested case hearing, the documents show. And in March 2012, after Jacobson’s findings were released – and after his claims of political influence had been made public – both Coppa and Sabas met with Aila “to discuss the telescope, hearings officer and funding issue,” the documents say.