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Maui victims seek former consultant’s records on what Hawaiian Electric knew about wildfire risk

Victims’ attorneys suing Hawaiian Electric over this month’s deadly Maui wildfires have subpoenaed a former utility consultant, seeking his correspondence with senior utility officials about their knowledge of the fire risks. wildfires and needed upgrades to its electrical system, according to a recent court filing. .

Friday’s subpoena seeks to impeach Mark Thaller in Virginia on Sept. 25 and demand that he turn over tapes of his interactions with Hawaiian Electric officials, including documents related to wildfire mitigation plans and to “decisions to defer forest fire mitigation CAPEX” or capital expenditures. “towards the years to come,” the court filing reads.

The subpoena also targets what it identifies as “Thaller’s letter,” which purports to be a notification of its concerns to the utility company’s board, according to the filing.

The letter has several attachments, including documents labeled as an “ethical investigation” of June 6 and an “ethical cover-up by executives and lawyers,” according to the subpoena. The scheduled deposition will include at least two dozen issues, which are listed in a separate filing with the subpoena, which appeared to be aimed at establishing Thaller’s relationship to the company and the veracity of the records, according to court filings. .

Mikal Watts, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the lawsuit, previously told NBC News that his legal team planned to issue a duces tecum subpoena — a type of subpoena that is primarily aimed at producing documents — to a man Watts described as a cooperating “whistleblower” on the case.

“That subpoena has been issued and we are in the process of having it served,” Watts confirmed Tuesday.

Watts had previously declined to identify the whistleblower or answer questions about the subpoena, except to say the man referred to documents he could not share under his terms of reference. job unless they are subpoenaed. Watts declined to give further details of the case on Tuesday, except to confirm that the subpoena had been filed in court.

Thaller, 64, of Gainesville, Va., did not immediately respond to a voicemail message left for him Tuesday evening.

A Hawaiian Electric spokesperson said Tuesday night that the utility did not have an answer to questions about the subpoena or Thaller.

Thaller’s Linkedin profile describes him as an “intensely impact-driven innovator and entrepreneur” with a long list of academic credentials, including a Doctor of Philosophy in conflict analysis and resolution. It also includes a professional biography that says he “strongly supports and promotes transparency, ethics and collaboration.”

“While working at Hawaiian Electric, he frequently communicated directly with the company’s Board of Directors, CEO, President, and senior executives,” the biography reads. “In particular, he provided the firm’s legal director with the foundations of a new, fair and transparent code of ethics.

Neither Thaller’s LinkedIn profile nor the subpoena provides full dates of Thaller’s collaboration with Hawaiian Electric.

The lawsuit to impeach Thaller, titled Jan K. Apo v. Hawaiian Electric Industries, alleges Hawaiian Electric helped set the stage for the catastrophic wildfires in historic Lahaina on August 8. She identifies videos and eyewitness accounts who allegedly saw downed power lines start the first fires, and he blames the utility company for years of inaction to upgrade electrical equipment and deal with trees and other vegetation whose utility managers knew they were dangerous. The lawsuit also argues that the utility should have had a system in place to shut down its power grid before high winds sent sparks into an uncontrollable inferno.

This complaint is one of 13 complaints filed since the fire, which killed at least 115 people. Many other people remain missing.

Among those suing Hawaiian Electric is Maui County, which claimed in a lawsuit filed last week that it caused the blaze by failing to turn off the power despite repeated warnings about high winds from the hurricane. Dora and the potential fire dangers they posed.

Hawaiian Electric denied responsibility for the deadly fire in a statement released Sunday.

While acknowledging that downed power lines likely started a fire on the morning of Aug. 8, the utility statement cited Maui County’s public statements that that fire was “100% contained” and later “extinguished.” in the morning. The utility said that by the time the county reported an “outbreak” at 3 p.m., all of its downed power lines had been out of power for more than six hours.

Hawaiian Electric also said the official cause of the deadly fire has yet to be determined, and called Maui’s lawsuit “factually and legally irresponsible.”

“We were surprised and disappointed that Maui County rushed to court before it even completed its own investigation,” Shelee Kimura, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric, said in the statement.

“We believe the complaint is factually and legally irresponsible,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, the county’s lawsuit may leave us the justice system with no choice but to show accountability for what happened that day.”

Following the statement, Hawaiian Electric’s stock value, which had fallen after the fires, soared 44.6% to $13.97 – the biggest one-day percentage gain since the company entered scholarship in 1983.

John Fiske, an attorney representing Maui County, said Monday that if Hawaiian Electric has “information on a second ignition source, HECO should provide that evidence now.”

“Ultimate responsibility rests with HECO to de-energize, ensure its equipment and systems are properly maintained, and ensure that downed power lines are not re-energized,” it said in a statement.

Watts said Tuesday that Hawaiian Electric’s comments appear carefully crafted as part of a common defense strategy to allocate blame. Although it relates to the Maui County trial, the statement has little relevance to most other trials, he said.

“If you read it carefully, they didn’t say there was a distinct ignition source,” Watts said of the statement. “In a defensive posture in the face of the Maui County lawsuit, they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. You’re suing us for all this damage caused by the fire in the town of Lahaina, but it burned down after your men didn’t put out the fire properly. It is therefore rather a defense of contributory negligence.


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