Yesterday, Hilo attorney Ted Hong filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hawaii County Elections Division administrator Patricia Nakamoto and senior elections clerk Shyla Ayau against County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, Hawaii County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, and private investigator Kenny Goodenow.
The women, who were fired from their jobs, alleged Kawauchi, Yagong and Goodenow defamed them, invaded their privacy and inflicted emotional distress. The County of Hawaii is also named in the lawsuit.
Specifically, the lawsuit alleges Kawauchi and Yagong repeatedly published and leaked false information to the media and injured the workers’ reputations and standing in the community.
“Each lawsuit specifically points to confidential information that had been intentionally and deliberately disclosed by Kawauchi and Yagong to support their decision to terminate Nakamoto and Ayau. The Complaint also refers to specific incidents where information that was required by law to beremain confidential was also leaked to the media,” Hong said.
Hong said that Kawauchi, Yagong and a so called “Gang of Four” in the current Council leadership “intentionally ignored this problem, rejected every opportunity to resolve this problem, and left Nakamoto and Ayau no choice but to file this lawsuit.”
Hong wants to take the case to trial where he will ask the jury to award damages to the women of more than $500,000 each. Hong also represents the family of Glen Shikuma, a third worker who died August 20.
The decision to file the lawsuit came after council members rejected a settlement offer earlier this year of a $10,000 settlement. (See the Nakamoto.settlement.demand.v.2)
Problems Stemmed from Office Management
The problems began in when the three County Elections Office employees were terminated.
According to Hong, the workers were fired for two main reasons.
Glen Shikuma, the former warehouse manager who died August 20, stored sign making equipment in the warehouse. He was using the equipment to make signs at no charge to the county for their election operations, Hong said. Because it is a big warehouse, Shikuma also stored his recyclable cans and bottles before taking them to the recycling center.
After the county opened an investigation into Shikuma for storing private equipment in a county facility, they found three Kirin beer bottles in the refrigerator, which Shikuma maintained were not his and were three to four years old. The county has a no alcohol tolerance policy, however. Hong said his client has a clean employment record, had no prior discipline actions, and does not drink on the job, but received no warnings before being fired.
The second allegation was the workers allowed alcohol to be consumed at a “thank you” party for all election volunteers. The “potluck style” party is a regular tradition that has been going for decades, Hong said, and it takes place after hours, on their own time, in a private parking lot.
“They (the workers) don’t ask people to bring alcohol, but local style, people brought their ice chests and some of them brought beer,” Hong said. “The county clerk said this is a violation of the county alcohol free policy, but we have statements from county clerks who have worked here before saying they were aware of parties and knew there was alcohol there.”
Hong said he originally demanded a half a million settlement for Pat Nakamoto (elections program administrator), Glen Shikuma and Shayla Ayau and then reduced the demand.
Hong said on April 9 that his clients reduced the settlement offer to include reinstatement, backpay, a considerably smaller settlement, attorneys fees, an apology letter, among other conditions, because his clients don’t want to soak taxpayers.
But Hawaii County Council Members Dominic Yagong, Brenda Ford, Pete Hoffmann and Brittany Smart, voted against the reduced offer, and the recommendation by the corporation counsel that the county take the deal.
Hong said then the council members were “letting their pride and political ambition drive their decision making” and he pledged to file a lawsuit.
According to Hong, of the original four County Elections Workers that were fired by Kawauchi and Yagong, three have been reinstated and given their jobs back, and the fourth employee had an unionarbitration scheduled for October, 2012. No other concessions had been made.
Council members contacted by Hawaii Reporter refused comment because of pending litigation.
Problems on Election Day Predicted
Hong asserted that the mess and mismanagement that occurred on Primary Election Day would not have occurred if Nakamoto, Ayau, Shikuma and a fourth fired elections worker who Hong does not represent had retained their jobs.
As many as half the islands polling places opened late during the August 11 Primary Election and the governor issuing an emergency proclamation to keep the polling places open later. There are at least two investigations into alleged mismanagement by County Clerk Kawauchi, one by the council and the other by the state elections office. Several other Big Island candidates expressed dismay at the mismanagement.