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Abigail Kawananakoa v. Kamanao Crabbe

The lawsuit alleges that CEO Crabbe's contract with OHA was signed by then-chair Bob Lindsey without approval from the rest of the OHA board, in violation of statute and OHA’s bylaws.

in Ethics

Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawānanakoa, a hereditary descendent of the royal House of Kawānanakoa and a financial supporter of the effort to prevent construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope, filed a lawsuit today against Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) executive director Kamana‘o Crabbe, OHA Trustee Robert Lindsey and OHA itself, seeking a ruling that the contract under which Crabbe is currently working for OHA was signed by Lindsey without its terms being approved by the rest of the OHA board. If proven true, this would be a violation of statute and OHA’s bylaws.

“The Office of Hawaiian Affairs, just like every governmental agency, must follow its own rules and state law,” said Kawānanakoa in a statement released through her attorneys, Jim Bickerton and Bridget Morgan. “The manner in which the executive director’s contract was handled reflects, at best, indifference and, at worst, hostility to legal standards by OHA’s former chair Robert Lindsey and its current attorney Robert G. Klein. The trustees forfeit the confidence of their beneficiaries by making any issue one of self‐interest, personalities and alliances rather than just adhering to the law. The status of the executive officer’s contract is a legal question that a judge must decide. That is the correct place to resolve this egregious problem.”

“The suit asks Crabbe and Lindsey to refund the monies paid out to Crabbe since his earlier contract expired in June, 2016,” noted Bickerton. “It alleges that they breached their fiduciary duties by allowing OHA funds to be expended without a vote of the board approving the contract terms.” 

While the board had voted in August of 2016 to give Crabbe a new contract, he rejected the terms the board proposed. The suit alleges that Lindsey went ahead without board approval to accept and sign the contract version that Crabbe proposed. The suit also alleges that no board vote was ever taken on that version of the contract, which was materially different from what the board had authorized.

The suit further alleges that the contract that Lindsey signed with Crabbe has no provisions permitting early termination without cause or limits on damages that OHA might have to pay if Crabbe is terminated, and requires that he cannot be terminated unless the parties first go through mediation and arbitration, attempting to thwart the board’s statutory right to terminate the administrator by a board vote.

“As with other suits we have been asked to file by Miss Kawananakoa, the guiding principle here is insistence that rules and laws be followed by our public officials,” Bickerton added. “When they are not, public spirited citizens must do what they can to see that they are.”

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