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Deputy county administrator is Friday Harbor's new town attorney; served as deputy attorney general of Hawaii

Adina Kobayashi Cunningham ... new Friday Harbor town attorney served as deputy attorney general of Hawaii.   - Submitted photo
Adina Kobayashi Cunningham ... new Friday Harbor town attorney served as deputy attorney general of Hawaii.
— image credit: Submitted photo

Friday Harbor's new town attorney is a former deputy attorney general of the state of Hawaii.

Mayor Carrie Lacher on Friday appointed Adina Kobayashi Cunningham town attorney, succeeding Don Eaton, who was appointed to the Superior Court by Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Cunningham becomes town attorney May 1. Contract terms were not available; the contract is being finalized by Town Administrator King Fitch for approval by the Town Council on April 15. Cunningham will charge the town a flat rate for attending council meetings; Eaton attended those meetings pro bono. "That would be so difficult to replicate," Lacher said.

Cunningham's appointment is historic on several levels.

First, Lacher is the first mayor to appoint an attorney since Ralph Rich appointed Eaton in 1982 (the attorney is hired by the mayor; Eaton's contract was renewed by mayors H. James Cahail, William J. LaPorte, Gary Boothman, David F. Jones, and Lacher).

Second, Cunningham is believed to be the first female town attorney in Friday Harbor history.

Third, women now hold most of the key elected or appointed positions in Town Hall — mayor (Lacher), clerk (Amy Taylor), treasurer (Wendy Picinich), and attorney (Cunningham). Two of five council members are women, Carrie Brooks and Anna Maria de Freitas, although women have often been the majority on the council.

Fourth, to accommodate Cunningham's commute — she lives on Orcas Island — the new town attorney will attend noon meetings rather than evening meetings, as Eaton did. That means most public hearings will be moved to the noon session, Lacher said.

Cunningham is currently the deputy county administrator. She is leaving the county's employ to open a private law practice with offices in Eastsound and Friday Harbor.

"Ms. Cunningham’s extensive background in working with government entities will ensure a good fit with the needs of the town and its council," Lacher said in a press release. "In addition, Ms. Cunningham’s eagerness and enthusiasm will bring great energy to the council chambers. I look forward to developing a strong and productive relationship with our new town attorney."

In an interview with The Journal, Lacher said of Cunningham's style. "Her demeanor will be so good for the Town Council. She's very low key, she's very friendly. She will do a good job of breaking out the details of the law and explaining it not only to the council but to the public."

Cunningham said in the same press release, "I believe in public service. Having worked as a local administrator for the past two years, I have seen things through an administrator’s eyes; as a resident of the county, with family living, working and growing businesses here, I understand the need for good government administration.”

Cunningham has a bachelor’s degree in history from Lewis and Clark College and a law degree from Northwestern School of Law, also at Lewis and Clark. She spent a year as a law clerk for the City of Portland and a year as a judicial law clerk for the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals.

She served as Hawaii's deputy attorney general, advising the state Department of Health on environmental regulations relating to the management and enforcement of solid and hazardous waste laws, public hearings, and state and federal legislation. Cunningham later advised and represented various state agencies in litigation and appeals.

For three of her years in the Attorney General’s office, Cunningham represented the state pension system, handling disability retirement litigation, appeals and administrative hearings. She also advised the system’s Board of Trustees on contract management, public records issues, settlement negotiations and compliance with federal regulations.

Cunningham joined San Juan County as deputy director for administration in 2008. The deputy director of administration acts as the county’s risk manager and conducts negotiations, administers the county’s Public Defender program and supervises administrative staff including Information Services, Human Resources and Contract Management.

Lacher said Cunningham expressed an interest in serving as town attorney. Four other attorneys or offices approached the town about providing legal services, including the county Prosecuting Attorney's office. Lacher said she also approached "a couple of others," among them a retired Superior Court judge whose mother had served as town clerk.

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