Powers, Duties and Functions
The Corporation Counsel’s role is to serve as the municipal government’s lawyer. The department practices civil law, representing the City in all legal proceedings and performing all other legal services required by the Revised Charter of the City and County of Honolulu and other laws. In this capacity, the department is charged with:
- Providing advice or written opinions to any officer, department head, board, commission, City Council, or other unit of local government;
- Making recommendations to the City Council for or against the settlement or dismissal of legal proceedings;
- Approving as to form all surety bonds, contracts and ordinances;
- Examining and approving title to all real property to be acquired by the City;
- Investigating, evaluating and recommending disposition of all claims made against the City; and
- Providing advice or representation on other matters as assigned.
News & Resources
The Department is headed by the Corporation Counsel and is composed of two main legal divisions supported by an administrative office.
The Counseling and Drafting (C&D) Division provides opinions and advice to all its clients; drafts and reviews legislation; reviews and approves legal documents, including transactional documents, procurement contracts and related documents, and financial instruments for the sale of municipal bonds; and attends meetings of the City Council and its committees and meetings of the City’s boards and commissions. This division also defends the City in litigation related to these duties, real property tax appeals and various administrative proceedings.
The C&D Division is divided into five sections: 1) Infrastructure, Community Services & Real Estate, 2) Personnel & Public Safety, 3) Finance, 4) Land Use, and 5) Transportation. These five sections are responsible for all city clients.
The Infrastructure, Community Services & Real Estate Section advises city agencies and entities responsible for the City’s basic physical and organizational structures and facilities, such as the Departments of Environmental Services and Design and Construction, the Board of Water Supply, and the Council Committee on Public Infrastructure & Technology. This section also advises the Department of Land Management on sophisticated real estate transactions as well as the Department of Community Services and the Office of Housing in addressing the human services, social services, workforce development, and housing needs of the community, particularly those who are underserved and at-risk.
The Personnel & Public Safety Section advises City agencies and entities responsible for services related to life and safety, such as the Honolulu Police Department, the Honolulu Fire Department, and the Council Committee on Public Safety. This section also advises agencies and entities that address personnel management for the City, such as the Department of Human Resources.
The Finance Section advises city agencies and entities responsible for the financial health and well-being of the City, such as the Department of Budget & Fiscal Services, the Council Committee on Budget, and the Office of Economic Revitalization.
The Land Use Section advises City agencies and entities on complex regulatory issues related to City zoning, planning, and permitting, such as the Department of Planning and Permitting, the Council Committee on Zoning, and the Planning Commission.
The Transportation Section advises the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and the Department of Transportation Services on all matters pertaining to the City’s multi-modal transportation system, such as the development of rail, the operation of TheBus and The Handi-Van, Complete Streets, shared mobility technologies, and other innovative transportation planning opportunities.
The City’s substantial presence in the life of its community brings unavoidable exposure to liability. The Litigation Division handles all civil claims and lawsuits against the City, representing and defending the City’s interest in lawsuits alleging tort claims, personal injury and/or property damage, and unlawful employment activities, as well as in 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 civil rights cases, typically arising from interactions between the public and law enforcement.
The Litigation Division deputies practice in Hawaii’s District and Circuit Courts of the First Circuit, the Intermediate Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court. The deputies also appear before the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Deputies in both the C&D and Litigation Divisions lend their expertise to and support their colleagues in the Department of Corporation Counsel.