East Hawaii News

Council Cancels Meeting Over Lawsuits

September 25, 2012, 1:17 PM HST
* Updated September 25, 1:18 PM
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The County Council today cancelled a special meeting called to discuss lawsuits filed earlier this month by two election workers fired from the county in January.

Council Chairman Dominic Yagong said the meeting was cancelled because the sole item on its agenda, a letter he wrote saying the meeting was being called to discuss with county lawyers the possibility of hiring outside attorneys to defend against the lawsuits, was being withdrawn.

The discussion would have been in executive session from which the public is excluded.

Yagong later told reporters that the issue is that the county’s Office of Corporation Counsel believes it has a conflict of interest in representing the defendants in the lawsuits filed by former Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto and Senior Elections Clerk Shyla Ayau. The defendants are Yagong, County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and the county itself.

The same issue came up in February when the fired election workers filed a claim against the county, which must be done before a lawsuit can be filed.

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Yagong said today the council will be seeking the advice of both the Hawaii Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the state attorney general’s office on the issue of the conflict of interest.

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“I felt it very important to resolve that issue,” he said, adding that the matter will likely be placed on the agenda for the council’s next meeting which is scheduled for Oct. 3.

Yagong said Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida had contacted the Office of Disciplinary Counsel about the potential conflict, but he has not been told what that conflict is.

Today was the deadline to respond to the lawsuits filed by Hilo attorney Ted Hong on behalf of Nakamoto and Ayau, but Hong has granted a 30-day extension to Oct. 26.

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Hong, who previously spent eight years in the Office of Corporation Counsel under former Council Chairman Stephen Yamashiro, including the last six months as head of the office, said today that he was surprised that Yagong is postponing the matter and didn’t just allow Ashida to simply declare the conflict and then move on to hiring special counsel to defend the county.

“I don’t know why they are delaying it a couple of weeks,” he said. “I think the conflict of interest is very clear.”

Hong said he believes the basis is that Yagong and Kawauchi did not follow the law in the firing of the elections workers – as is spelled out in the lawsuits — and because of that the county lawyers cannot defend their actions.

Yagong today rejected that contention, saying that both he and Kawauchi followed the law in their handling of the terminations.

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