Hawaii County Council considers free legal help to defend genetically modified crop law

Government And Institutions Associated Press

The Hawaii County Council is scheduled to consider an attorney's offer for free legal representation to defend its new law restricting genetically modified crops.

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Paul Achitoff, managing attorney for Earthjustice's mid-Pacific regional office, has offered to represent the county for free, West Hawaii Today reported (http://bit.ly/1yCOwkX). Taxpayers would only have to cover court costs.

The county council is scheduled to hold an executive session at its Wednesday meeting in Hilo to consider Achitoff's offer. It will also consider budgeting up to $10,000 for court costs.

Attorneys representing groups challenging Hawaii County's new law sent the county council a letter Jan. 22 urging council members not to allow Achitoff to represent the county.

Margery Bronster and Rex Fujichaku, who represent the Hawaii Floriculture and Nursery Association and other groups suing to block the law, argue Achitoff has a conflict of interest because groups opposing genetically modified organisms have a different agenda from the county.

Achitoff, along with Center for Food Safety's George Kimbrell, fired back in a Jan. 27 letter against what they said was an attempt to "smear" Earthjustice. There is no conflict, they maintain.

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The county ordinance bans growing GMO crops in open-air conditions, with some exceptions. Papaya and corn already growing on the island, as well as scientific study in greenhouses and other enclosed settings, were exempted.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren in November ruled the county's law was invalid because state law pre-empts county law on the issue. He said lawmakers intended the state to have broad oversight of agricultural issues in Hawaii.

The county council in December voted 5-4 to appeal Kurren's ruling. Six votes will be needed to hire special counsel.

Kauai County hired the Honolulu firm McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon LLP to defend its law regulating GMO crops and pesticides. The firm has said it would waive legal fees beyond the $210,000 authorized by Kauai.

Kurren ruled in August the Kauai law was invalid. Two separate appeals of his ruling have been filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com