Residents in Maui have been coming forward with videos showing that the downed power lines were responsible for starting fires and this evidence is about as strong as you can get. And while the government is dragging its feet to help victims, lawyers on the ground are doing what they can to investigate to get information. Mike Papantonio & Farron Cousins discuss more.

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*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio: Residents in Maui have been coming forward with videos showing that the downed power lines were responsible for starting fires and this evidence is about as strong as you can get. And while the government is dragging its feet to help victims, lawyers on the ground are doing what they can to investigate to get information. We’ve seen this, we’ve seen this play out so many times, haven’t we?

Farron Cousins: We have.

Mike Papantonio: Talk about it just a little bit.

Farron Cousins: This is kind of one of those situations where the technological advancements, everybody’s got a phone, which means everybody’s got a camera. It’s moments like this that really show the importance of that. Kind of like when you see the police doing something and you’re filming that, and that’s exactly what these residents have done. They’re now coming forward with videos that actually show, I mean, there’s videos that legitimately show here is a downed power line. You can see the sparks coming off it, and those sparks then start a fire right there. They put out the fire, not long after, fire restarts. So we’ve got video, not we, but these residents have video evidence showing that yes, downed power lines are starting these blazes.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah. The reason it’s important to me that the people understand this is California, great example. We talked about this before, but in California you had the government doing everything they could to cooperate with the energy company. I mean, it was like this, it was this relationship and you’re scratching your head, what the heck heck’s going on here? And you understood that the government was trying to help them find cover. So the story started off, well, they were arsonists that were responsible. We know that’s not the case here. You got exact, you have information. The information is coming though from people that live there. Coming from local lawyers that are doing investigations and doing a great job finding this material because it’s complicated, isn’t it? You know, well, it’s complicated to the fact that you have government that somehow doesn’t want to admit A, these are bad things we did .

Our alarm system, we didn’t use it. It’s a spectacular alarm system. We didn’t use it. We had no real plan in place to get the kind of relief there. We knew within 48 hours people didn’t have food. They didn’t have water. They were desperate to even have a place to live. There was a lack of, this could happen to us. And why that’s important to me is because they had plenty of information just what happened in California in 2017 and 2018. They knew everything they could have known. And I think that’s what, when people understand that and think about it, it infuriates them. Doesn’t it?

Farron Cousins: Absolutely. You’re talking about that warning system, the alarm system, the alarms were tripping. I mean, they saw like, oh God, we do have problems here. But then proceeded to not take action. They continued to sit on that information and do nothing with it as far as what has been reported so far. And then you also have the fact that the power company is already making excuses, which is a good sign that they know they screwed up.

Mike Papantonio: Right. Right.

Farron Cousins: They’re out there saying, well, gee, if we had shut off the power, you got people on medical equipment, how would they power that? And at some point you enter the ethical dilemma. Okay.

Mike Papantonio: Risk vs benefit, yeah.

Farron Cousins: Do we risk shutting off several people, but hundreds die in a fire, or do we save hundreds and maybe put two or three people at risk?

Mike Papantonio: The problem here, and as you know, I’ve handled, I mean, we launched the opioid case. We launched the PFAS. We’ve launched the biggest cases in America. And as I look at this one, it’s so overwhelming the conduct by the power company, the negligence by the, this attitude that we’re just gonna let things rock on and everything’s gonna be okay. The problem here is this is HECO, you have a company that’s only worth $3.5 billion. Now that sounds like a lot, but you’re talking about six, $7 billion worth of damage here. And that’s probably putting it mildly. So the case is probably gonna end up in bankruptcy court. One thing that happens that we see all the time is the first thing that the company does is says, we’re projecting losses. We want bankruptcy protection. I feel that’s where it’s going to go. There’s gonna be other people involved. There’ll be other entities that are involved that have some responsibility here.

But HECO is gonna sense, they’re gonna seek that kind of protection because there’s no way they can go the distance. You have investors with HECO. You’ve got BlackRock, you have some huge Wall Street investors that own part of that co-op. I think it’s 20,000 people that are investors into that co-op. They’re just citizens from the island. But then you’ve got the big money and they know what to do. They’re gonna take this thing to bankruptcy court. And I think that’s where the fight’s gonna take place for the most part. But the other part of it is, I wonder if you’re a board of directors, okay, you’re on the board of directors, you know what’s happening with this company. You know the poles are too old, they’re snapping, the wind’s blowing ’em down. There’s nothing underground. Everything could be underground. You know all these things are taking place and you don’t do anything. What do you think that does as exposing the board of directors to some problems?

Farron Cousins: I was gonna say, I feel like you’ve got huge liability risks there with these decisions. Because look, Hawaii, just like where we are right now, you’re in a hurricane zone. Hawaii is no stranger to the hurricanes and all these extreme horrific weather events. As such, where we live, we know that the power companies, you can’t just go out, put up a wooden pole and string your lines on it and say, okay, we’re good to go. We have codes, we have rules, we have wind mitigations. We have all kinds of things that have to take place to make sure that your pole is gonna be standing if we get a category three hurricane coming through here. And we get power outages during our hurricanes. We have poles down here and there, but we don’t ever have anything unless we get a cat five coming through that looks like what those power lines look like in the pictures we see here. Just widespread whole streets where every pole just snapped, laying over the road.

Mike Papantonio: You know, there’s a lot of things positive about this company. I mean, I love what they’re doing with trying to privatize electric cars. They’re trying to increase the number of electric. They have investors that, to me should have been at the table. And they should have said, look, if we’re not gonna put underground stuff, if we’re not gonna put underground lines, we need to at least update the poles. They shouldn’t snap in the wind. We know we have big wind issues. We’re Hawaii for God’s sakes. So they had all these intrinsic problems and they had some smart people calling the shots. But when I think of a shareholder derivative suit kinda has this all over it to me as I look at it.

Farron Cousins: Yeah. And look, we are at the point technologically, I mean, my brother-in-law owns a company that does the underground work for companies. We shouldn’t have poles and wires in the sky. I understand there’s areas where it has to be, but for most of the country, most of the world, we’re at the point where we can safely put this stuff underground out of sight. And we’re not doing it. And we could solve issues like this. We could solve massive power outages during other storms. We have solutions, but just in general, as a country, we’re not taking ’em.

Mike Papantonio: Farron, I think, I honestly, I’ve said this all along. I really believe, you know, you and I have been working together for 20 years in various television organizations. I think you’re the best commentator in the business. Political commentator.

Farron Cousins: Thank you.

Mike Papantonio: What do you do about Wall Street coming in like carpet baggers? How do you handle that? What is the step that you take other than to say to the public, get it in their head, don’t do this. Don’t cave in.

Farron Cousins: At this point, what needs to happen with the local governments, even the state government, is they need to put a moratorium on the property sales.

Mike Papantonio: Good point.

Farron Cousins: For the effective areas. You know, we will not sign off on anything. We will not give you the notarization of a sale. Not until this is all over with and done with, and you get your insurance money, we get any settlement money. After that if you still want to sell, you can sell to somebody. But right now, no selling of property, they have the authority to do that. It would probably be challenged in court by these companies immediately.

Mike Papantonio: Well, there’ll be constitutional issues. I mean, there’s gonna be, UCC, I mean, commerce clause issues. There’s gonna be all kinds of issues. But stop it.

Farron Cousins: Yeah.

Mike Papantonio: That’s a, that’s really a good first step to say, you know, I don’t know if it’s gonna hold up in court. But we got stuff we can slow you down really for a long time in the appellate process.

Farron Cousins: Shine the spotlight on it before they have a chance to sneak in.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Save these people in the sense, again, I say it again. This is not just regular America here. Okay. This is a part of America where you got generations that have been there forever, businesses built forever, families, extensive, broad numbers of families. And this is more than just, hey, sorry, my house burned down. I’m gonna move now. It’s just not like that in this part of the world. Anyway, thank you for joining me.

Farron Cousins: Thank you.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.