From Lahaina’s ashes, a Maui lawyer’s career takes a dramatic turn

I really thought I was always going to be a prosecutor — then the fire happened. Getting calls from friends and family members impacted by the fires asking for advice, it occurred to me there were so many new ways to serve victims. — Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman trial lawyer Beth Nardi

Beth Nardi can thank the Lahaina fires for at least one thing. After a dramatic escape that destroyed her Lahaina home and left her among the many thousands of residents navigating the rebuilding process, Beth’s legal career took a surprise turn.

 

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A long-time criminal prosecutor who took down kidnappers, bank robbers, violent gang members and organized crime rings, Beth was expecting to spend many more years in the Maui County Prosecutor’s office. But living through the Lahaina fires and seeing the challenges and heartbreak experienced by friends and neighbors prompted her to change the course of her career and move into civil litigation with a singular purpose: helping neighbors rebuild and obtain justice.

Beth joined Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman’s Maui offices in November 2023 and now devotes her time to helping fire survivors. The same passion for obtaining justice for crime victims is now focused on fire survivors and the historic litigation that is underway.

We sat down with Beth to learn more about her personal connection to the Lahaina tragedy and catch up on the latest developments in the litigation.

What is your legal background? How did you become a lawyer?

After graduating from law school in 2010, I joined the San Mateo District Attorney’s office, where I got an incredible amount of experience in the courtroom in front of juries, from prosecuting routine misdemeanors to violent gang-related crimes, bank robberies, and kidnap for ransom, just to name a few.

I moved to Lahaina in early 2020 to join my fiance and began work at the Maui County Prosecutor’s office. Being a prosecutor is rewarding — it’s a very victim-centered career. There are people who have been wronged in some way, and the people who did the wrong need to be held accountable. It’s a difficult road for a victim to go down, and it’s a very satisfying feeling to help them navigate the system.

What were you doing on the day of the fire?

I was planning to get married later in the fall of 2023, and I had just returned home from a vacation the night before. My suitcase was still packed, and I was scheduled to start a jury trial that morning. It was very windy when I woke up at about 5 a.m., and it was getting hot very fast. Everyone was watching the weather and fire conditions, checking on neighbors and making sure we were ready to leave quickly, if necessary. The wind really picked up around 3 p.m., and within minutes the sky turned very dark and the wind increased to 80 or 90 miles per hour. We decided we needed to go. My fiance, my sister, myself and our four dogs got in our truck and pulled onto the highway, but the fire had already jumped the lower road highway and some power lines were already down. Traffic was gridlocked. By the time we got to the neighborhood where my parents live, the fire was already moving through the neighborhood.

The wind was blowing in every direction. You couldn’t see, and there was smoke everywhere. We ran to neighbors, telling people to get out, then all of us piled back in our truck. We were stuck in the Front Street jam, cut through parking lots and went around downed power lines. We made it to the police station parking lot and watched with others as black smoke completely covered the shoreline. We could hear propane tanks popping, and the smoke and sounds were getting very close. We made the decision with others at the station to drive further north. We were able to get to the highway and drive north to a shopping center parking lot and waited all night for news of what was happening.

People gathered there the next morning, and that’s when we started hearing that entire neighborhoods were gone, Lahaina was gone. We heard about boats picking up survivors in the water. I reunited with a friend who I had been texting with just before the fire had swept through; she recounted how she, along with many others, had spent hours treading water in the ocean and had watched Front Street burn. That to me was the moment when the magnitude of what had happened hit me. My house burned down — that’s one thing — but the entire town was gone. That’s what hurts the most – it affected everyone.

How has the fire affected you?

I went back to work, but I didn’t feel as connected. I was very concerned about what was happening in Lahaina and how I could help fire victims.

I was getting a lot of calls from friends and family members impacted by the fires, asking for advice. It occurred to me there were so many new ways to serve victims. I joined Galiher, DeRobertis & Waxman because of their deep roots in Maui. The firm let me get to work immediately, and I began reaching out to clients to let them know not only was I here for them as a lawyer but as someone who lived and lost through the same experience. I feel lucky to be working with attorneys who care about their work and their clients.

How do you see the litigation playing out?

Litigation is going to be key to rebuilding Lahaina, and it’s going to be something Hawai‘i courts have never seen. Already, more fire-related lawsuits have been filed than in all dockets from the last five years combined. This is a huge undertaking for the judiciary to manage.

The lawsuits against Pacific Gas & Electric stemming from the wildfires that destroyed the towns of Paradise and Concow in Northern California are a good model for how these lawsuits will likely progress toward a resolution. The first trials are set for later this year, but ultimately, most of these lawsuits will be resolved with a global settlement.

This has been a huge economic hit to the area, and there’s real concern that investors will come in and try to develop where locals live. Many people will not have the financial ability to wait years to rebuild. It’s so important for Lahaina residents to be able to rebuild on their lots, if that’s what they want to do. Our goal is to restore Lahaina and to make it possible for everyone who wants to rebuild to be able to do so.

Category: Maui Fire

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