BY JIM DOOLEY – A co-defendant with Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle in a whistleblower lawsuit settled by the city for $325,000 earlier this year is now on the mayor’s payroll and calling himself “Acting Director” of the city Department of the Medical Examiner.
Robert K.W. “Bobby” Lee Jr. was accused in the 2004 suit of mounting a criminal investigation of colleague Craig Whang when both men worked as investigators under then-Prosecutor Carlisle. The investigation began after Whang raised concerns that Lee could be a physical threat to co-workers in the office.
Remarkably, Whang eventually pleaded no contest to four felonies as a result of that investigation but his retaliation lawsuit continued in civil court for eight years. The defendants were Lee, Carlisle and former First Deputy Prosecutor Iwalani White.
Whang’s civil suit was finally settled two months ago with an agreement to pay $325,000 to Whang that was recommended to the City Council by Carlisle’s administration. None of the defendants admitted wrongdoing and Carlisle was not involved in the city Corporation’s Counsel’s recommendation to settle the case, according to the city.
The Whang criminal case was prosecuted by the Attorney General’s office when the investigation was transferred out of Carlisle’s office. In 2008, Whang entered deferred no contest pleas to charges of theft and unauthorized access to computers.
Whang was fined $2,500 and is now nearing completion of a five-year period of court supervision. The charges against him would be dismissed if he successfully completes the court sentence.
His attorney, Michael Green, declined comment on the case or on Lee’s new job with the city, citing a confidentiality agreement that binds parties in the suit to silence.
Lee said today there was “absolutely no connection” between the lawsuit settlement and his new work for city, which began as volunteer service in March 2011 for city Managing Director Douglas Chin and has since grown into part-time, paid employment in Mayor Carlisle’s office.
Lee declined to discuss the Whang lawsuit, other than to say, “It was a very sad and difficult situation.”
Managing Director Chin said in a written statement that Lee “was detailed by the Mayor to handle all administrative matters of the Department of the Medical Examiner, to include budget and personnel matters normally assigned to the Director, pending the filling of the Chief Medical Examiner vacancy.
“Mr. Lee is a 38-year City employee, the last twelve years as Chief Investigator of the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, with administrative experience in a City division similar in size to the Department of the Medical Examiner,” Chin said.
Lee is paid for only 19 hours of work per week at a rate of $28 per hour, an arrangement that allows him to collect full pension benefits but still work “as part of the team” at City Hall, he said.
He said has used the “acting director” title at the Medical Examiner’s Department in part because it “helps in getting things done. People return your calls promptly.”
His formal title at the department is administrative services officer.
Lee presented the department’s budget requests to the City Council earlier this year.
“I remember him but I didn’t know his history,” said Budget Committee chairwoman Ann Kobayashi.
“I remember that he didn’t know much about the budget,” said Kobayashi.
“I’m very curious about this situation and I’ll have to find out more about it,” she said.
Council chair Ernest Martin was the only council member to vote against the settlement of the Whang suit when it was presented in early May.
Martin declined comment on the settlement or on Lee’s new job with the city.
Lee, 60, said he retired from the city payroll at the end of 2010, closing a 38-year career that began with eight years as a Honolulu police officer and 30 years as an investigator in the prosecutor’s office.
He said he quickly found himself at loose ends after he retired and volunteered to work for Chin, who had been Lee’s boss at the prosecutor’s office when Lee was chief investigator and Chin was First Deputy Prosecutor under Carlisle.
Carlisle named Chin his Managing Director after winning the mayoral election in 2010.
“I have a very strong relationship with Doug Chin. I just enjoy working with him,” Lee said.
Lee said he began performing odd jobs in the office, among them fielding and investigating some of the numerous complaints from taxpayers and city residents that flow into City Hall.
“You can’t imagine the number of complaints they receive,” he said.
“As the tasks became more substantive, it (the job) just morphed into something more substantial in the way of time and effort,” he said.
When Dr. William Goodhue, the Acting Director of the Medical Examiner’s Department, retired in September 2011, the city was unable to find a qualified replacement (see related story) so Lee was asked to help out with the administrative, non-medical duties normally performed by the department head, he said.
“My function is to provide administrative leadership as it relates to personnel and budgetary (matters) because of the fact that we had this void,” he said.
That’s when he was hired under the 19-hour-per-week contract, said Lee.
“A lot of people were under the assumption that I was handsomely paid,” he said.
Lee said he is working far more than 19 hours per week.
“This job is very challenging and obviously requires a lot more than 19 hours a week,” he said.
“If you calculate the number of hours (I work), the public is getting a pretty good deal,” he said.
And Lee is still putting in hours at City Hall, he said.
Lee said he has helped examine how Honolulu administers property tax exemptions for historic properties.
His background as a criminal investigator is useful in his new job. but he is quick to add: “I’m not Mr. Carisle’s or Mr. Chin’s personal investigator.”
“It sounds kind of corny but I believe in this administration, I believe in what they’re trying to do,” he said.