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Lawyer for Yagong, Kawauchi tries to stop defamation suit


Stephens Media

Former Hawaii County Elections Division employees seemingly had no problem admitting that they observed other county employees drinking alcohol on county property, according to interviews filed as exhibits with the 3rd Circuit Court in a motion for summary judgment.

The exhibits include interviews by Corporate Specialized Intelligence and Investigations, an investigative firm former Hawaii County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong and former County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi hired to look into reports of drinking by county employees, as well as of a county employee running a sign-making business out of the Elections Warehouse.

Elections Division Chief Pat Nakamoto admitted to attending parties at the warehouse following several general elections, as did county warehouse manager Glen Shikuma. Shikuma also claimed former Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda, former County Clerks Kenneth Goodenow and Casey Jarman and more than 10 other county employees attended the parties.

Shikuma, who died last year, denied in several interviews using the county warehouse to run his sign-making business, which he said he closed in 2007. Shikuma became a county employee in 2000.

Nakamoto and another elections employee, Shyla Ayau, sued Yagong and Kawauchi for defamation and conducting a negligent investigation. Following the investigation, which took place in July 2011, Kawauchi fired Nakamoto, Ayau, Shikuma and another employee. The county reinstated Nakamoto, Ayau and the third worker, but Ayau had already taken a position on Kauai.

Francis Jung, the attorney representing Kawauchi and Yagong, said the evidence — from hundreds of pictures showing 62 cases of empty beer bottles, half-consumed bottles of wine and still-cold beer bottles in the warehouse refrigerator to Shikuma’s personal sign-making equipment taking up about a fourth of the warehouse space — backs up his clients’ claims.

“The question is whether or not Jamae and Dominic acted in good faith,” Jung said Friday, after filing the documents. “The sole issue is not whether Jamae Kawauchi or Dominic Yagong acted negligently, it’s whether they intentionally misrepresented anything, made false statements or acted in bad faith.”

Jung’s motion for summary judgment said the former clerk and former council chairman started the investigation in an effort to cut county expenses.

“Although elections are held only once every two years, the County of Hawaii, unlike some other counties in Hawaii, had developed a practice of leasing off-site elections warehouse space on a long-term basis as opposed to a short-term basis, even in nonelection years,” the document said. “Additionally, the County of Hawaii has also employed a complement of full-time elections staff in nonelection years. Consequently, Kawauchi and Yagong decided to visit the off-site, county-leased elections warehouse to ascertain whether or not the amount of the leased warehouse space, the term of the lease and maintenance of all the full-time staff were necessary expenses in nonelection years.”

Shikuma, in an interview with the investigators, claimed the empty bottles were from his home, and that he had dropped them off at the warehouse on his way to recycle them.

An investigator later found silkscreening materials for copyrighted products, including Titleist and Hello Kitty. Both companies said Shikuma did not hold a license to reproduce their copyrighted products.

Goodenow, in an interview cited in the original complaint, said the party, a potluck held every election year for Elections employees and their families, took place in the warehouse parking lot, which is not county property.

Casey (Jarman) Leigh told Nakamoto’s attorney she attended the party in 2008.

“During the party, I was aware alcohol was being consumed in the parking lot by attendees,” Leigh said, according to a court document. I did not object to this nor did I ever inform Ms. Nakamoto that it was inappropriate and should be discontinued. In fact, the party was good for morale and an excellent way to celebrate the end of an election season. No one appeared to be inebriated or to be drinking to excess while I was there.”

Ted Hong, attorney for Nakamoto and Ayau, said the investigation report contained factual errors, such as claims that more than one person said they had picked up signs from Shikuma at the warehouse. Hong said those people actually picked up signs in the parking lot, on a weekend, and only met Shikuma there, but did not go in the warehouse.

Hong said he’s still trying to get a copy of a letter from either the county’s Human Resources Department or Corporation Counsel.

In the letter, “Dominic Yagong and Jamae Kawauchi were directed not to direct the investigation and they did,” Hong said. “In the same letter, they were told not to terminate those county employees.”

Email Erin Miller at emiller@westhawaiitoday.com


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