A move by the Honolulu rail authority to have city tax payers pay for its legal fees isn’t sitting well with one council member.

Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi says HART should pay its own legal fees because that is what is required by law.

Tsuneyoshi has introduced a resolution urging HART to pay its own legal fees. She says the city agreed to allot $50,000 in outside legal advice for HART, specifically to assist the rail board in handing over documents subpoenaed by the federal government in February.

“This action does concern me for a number of reasons. Namely that that action to provide money for outside legal counsel is against our charter. So within the charter, any outside legal counsel is to be paid by revenues of the authority and it should be agreed upon by the authority and the council,” she said.

With the cost of the rail project now at more than $9 billion and counting, Tsuneyoshi also points out that the $50,000 could just be the start of a larger amount that city taxpayers might wind up paying.

“As we know as in past times, when we had had to take outside legal counsel and pay for outside legal counsel, the initial cost for that always escalates over time depending on how long it takes and what actions are needed. So it is the principle, it’s also the fact that it goes against our charter requirement stating that the authority should pay for their own legal counsel,” Tsuneyoshi said.

Instead of getting outside legal counsel, Tsuneyoshi says HART can get legal advice from the city. If not HART should be cooperating with the federal government and handing over the documents as requested by the subpoena.

“We received the subpoenas in February so we need to start moving and cooperating with the federal government instead of further obstructing the process at this point in time,” she said.

If her resolution is approved by the city council, she says HART can then be brought in to provide more answers.

“I definitely look to getting more feedback from HART as to their progress. So far like I said it’s been since February that the three subpoenas were issued so we should be able to have an update by now so hopefully that will be coming soon,” said Tsuneyoshi.

We’ve reached out to HART for a response but we have not heard back.