East Hawaii News

Lawsuit Challenging Leithead-Todd’s Qualifications Dismissed

October 23, 2013, 3:33 PM HST
* Updated October 23, 3:34 PM
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A Kona judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the appointment of the county’s director of the Department of Environmental Management.

County Councilwoman Brenda Ford filed the lawsuit seeking to remove Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd from the position, alleging that she did not meet the qualifications for the job established in the Hawaii County Charter.

The lawsuit asked the Third Circuit Court to require that Leithead-Todd justify her qualifications for the position.

Leithead-Todd’s attorney, Robert Kim of Kailua-Kona, issued a statement today saying that Judge Ronald Ibarra dismissed the lawsuit during a hearing held this morning.

Kim said Ibarra ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction in the case because Ford failed to properly serve Leithead-Todd with the complaint.

Kim told Big Island Now that Ford instead served Leithead-Todd’s secretary at the department, and because Leithead-Todd was sued as an individual, she had to be served personally.

He said because of the dismissal, the judge did not rule on what Kim described as “other defects” he has raised with Ford’s lawsuit.

Those included two problems with documents in the case, one being that they were improperly notarized and the other a lack of proper certification for government documents. Kim said a third defect was Ford’s failure to serve Leithead-Todd with documents within the proper time frame.

“The judge never reached those more serious issues,” he said.

The case was dismissed without prejudice, which means it can be re-filed.

Asked for comment, Leithead-Todd said she appreciated her attorney’s efforts, but would not be surprised if Ford re-filed the petition.

“We’ll see what happens,” she said.

Ford, who is represented by Kona attorney Michael Matsukawa, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Ford’s lawsuit alleges that Leithead-Todd does not meet the Charter’s requirement that the director of the department have “a minimum of five years of administrative experience in a related field and an engineering degree or a degree in a related field.”

Leithead-Todd, a lawyer who holds a bachelor degree in English, previously served as head of the Department of Environmental Management before that requirement was approved by voters in 2010.

Leithead-Todd, who served as the county’s planning director before being appointed to the DEM post by Mayor Billy Kenoi, was approved to her current post in July by a 6-3 vote of the County Council.

During the deliberations on Leithead-Todd’s appointment, council members asked Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida for an opinion on the matter of qualifications.

Ashida told council members that his review of the minutes of the Charter Commission showed that its members also wrestled with the definition of “related.” As a result, Ashida said he concluded that the commission’s members’ intent was to leave the matter of qualifications up to the council and its confirmation process.

Ibarra earlier this month denied a request from the county to intervene in the lawsuit.

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