Michael A. Lilly, former state attorney general in Hawaii
Michael A. Lilly, former state attorney general in Hawaii

BY MICHAEL A. LILLY – Part of the reason why the University of Hawaii has lost its way is that its administrators no longer have the benefit of independent oversight by the Attorney General’s office.

Under the Hawaii State Constitution, the Attorney General represents and provides legal counsel to all state departments. Accordingly, when I was in office, the Attorney General represented the University of Hawaii and provided the institution, and all other state agencies, with independent legal advice.

Many state agencies, such as the University, dissatisfied with that independent oversight and advice contrary to what it wanted to hear, sought to have its own in-house counsel.

Sometime after my tenure at the Attorney General’s office, the University of Hawaii succeeded in acquiring its own in-house counsel, which, according to recent reports, comprises some nine attorneys. By any measure, that is a sizable law firm.

One problem with in-house counsel, is they tend to provide the advice the organization wants to hear – not necessarily the advice it needs to hear.

That is a prescription for bad decision-making.

It is also troubling that the University’s nine-member law firm was not enough. The institution needed additional help of several outside private law firms when the UH came under scrutiny in recent months for its fiscal and operational management.

With such a large in-house firm, why did the University need to engage outside legal firms to help clean up its problems?

Perhaps the answer to that question is self-evident.

I believe if the University if Hawaii had sought the independent advice of the Attorney General over the last decade or so, many of its employment and contract problems (entailing millions of dollars of costs and settlements) would have been avoided or minimized.

Michael A. Lilly, a lawyer in private practice, is the former Hawaii Attorney General (1984-85)

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