Council Approves Hiring of Outside Lawyers
After initially balking, the County Council has voted to approve the hiring of an outside attorney to defend the county against civil lawsuits filed by three former employees.
Three former workers in the county’s Elections Division are suing the county over their firings, which they claim were improperly done. Pat Nakamoto, the county’s longtime elections administrator, Glen Shikuma and Shyla Ayau are each seeking $500,000 for libel and emotional suffering.
Nakamoto and Shikuma filed their lawsuits in January, while Ayau filed hers earlier this month. All are being represented by labor lawyer Ted Hong.
Shikuma, a 13-year employee of the division who supervised a Hilo warehouse rented by the county to store election materials, was fired in October for allegedly drinking alcohol and operating a private business at the facility. Nakamoto and two other elections employees were fired Jan. 6, also allegedly for drinking at the warehouse.
The terminations were ordered by County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi who is under Council Chairman Dominic Yagong’s supervision and was appointed to the clerk position by the chairman with the concurrence of the council’s majority.
The vote came Wednesday following deliberations between the council and county Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida. The meeting was held in executive session under the rules of the state’s “sunshine law” allowing private meetings involving attorney-client matters.
Eight members of the council voted to follow Ashida’s recommendation that outside attorneys are needed because county attorneys would have a potential conflict of interest in fighting the claims.
Ashida said Friday that the Hawaii Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel agreed with that assessment, but he declined to comment on its contents, saying that information is part of the attorney-client privilege.
Ashida said the outside attorneys will be paid for by his office and won’t require a special appropriation.
“We will be able to do this within our budget,” he said. The attorney or attorneys will be selected by a panel of three attorneys in his office from a list of lawyers who have applied to be on the county’s list of professional services for legal assistance.
Because he was not involved in the action, Ashida said he couldn’t comment on Yagong’s decision late last month to hire outside attorneys on his own from the council’s budget to review Ashida’s request to hire outside counsel.
Ashida’s request for special counsel was originally scheduled to be discussed at the council’s Feb. 1 meeting but Yagong removed that item from the agenda, saying that he wanted to give his attorneys time to study the request first.
Yagong did not respond to a request for comment Friday on the status of those hirings, and whether they still are working for the county.