Late Wednesday, Elections Administrator, Patricia Nakamoto, and former Senior Elections Clerk, Shyla Ayau, filed separate defamation and negligence lawsuits. They have sued Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, Hawaii County Council Chair Dominic Yagong in their individual and official capacities and the private investigator, Corporate Specialized Intelligence and Investigations, hired by Yagong. The County of Hawaii is also named because at the time of the decision, Kawauchi and Yagong may have been acting in their official capacity as County officers. Nakamoto and Ayau are two of four workers fired by Kawauchi and Yagong for alleged improper activities at the County Elections warehouse, or theoretically having knowledge of those activities.
The lawsuit alleges: (1) Defamation as a matter of law; (2) Defamation as a result of negligence; (3) Invasion of Privacy and putting Nakamoto and Ayau in a false light; (4) Negligent investigation; and (5) Negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit also alleges that the repeated publication and leaking of false information to the media injured their 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 remain confidential was also leaked to the media.
The lawsuit filed by Elections Administrator Nakamoto says that Kawauchi wrote a letter to another County Clerk and blamed Nakamoto for Kawauchi’s lateness to meetings and blamed Nakamoto for other of Kawauchi’s actions; that Kawauchi accused Nakamoto of being aware that Glen Shikuma was allegedly running a private sign-making business out of the County Elections Warehouse; that Kawauchi refused to provide Nakamoto’s union rep with copies of reports from the private investigator which Kawauchi was using as grounds to dismiss Nakamoto; that Nakamoto was responsible for post-election pot lucks held with permission of the previous County Clerks that included privately-purchased alcohol, held for more than 20 years, and held in the privately-owned parking lot adjacent to the privately-owned but leased Elections Warehouse (one example cited is a party in 2008). One of the allegations is that Kawauchi and/or Yagong allowed private information about the defendants to be leaked to the media or public, sometimes via anonymous postings on online blogs.
Yagong and Kawauchi fired Glen Shikuma, manager of the Elections Warehouse, in October, 2011. Nakamoto, Ayau, and Elton Nakagawa were fired on January 6. Yagong and Kawauchi alleged Shikuma was running a sign business out of the Hilo Elections Warehouse and that there had been alcohol at parties at the warehouse (leased by the County but privately owned). Both are forbidden by County Charter.
Of the original four County Elections Workers that were fired by Kawauchi and Yagong, three have been reinstated. Nakagawa is working at Hawaii County Elections. Shyla Akau transferred to a similar but temporary position with the County of Kaua’i and said Thursday the situation in Hawaii County Elections was just too stressful.
Nakamoto returned to her job in July after Hawaii County Human Resources ruled in her favor after she filed a grievance, but Kawauchi did not allow her to go back to her job. Instead, Kaauchi placed her on paid administrative leave, with no explanation. That means the County has been paying Nakamoto to not be on the job, for more than a month, despite the official reinstatement. Kawauchi has steadfastly refused to answer questions on why she made this decision. Last week, County Council Chair Dominic Yagong said that Kawauchi was in discussion to bring back Nakamoto to her job. When Hong was asked about that, he said “My client was surprised to hear that. She was never contacted by anyone officially. She heard about it from others who said they heard that.” Hong said all this has been stressful for Nakamoto, and now she’s ill.
The fourth employee, Glen Shikuma, had an union arbitration scheduled for October, 2012, but passed away of a stroke on Tuesday, August 21—the day after the County Council had a Special Meeting to review problems associated with the August 11 Primary Election.
The fired elections workers offered In April to settle the matter, prior to filing any lawsuit. Then, Hong said Nakamoto, Ayau, and Shikuma asked for $10,000 each, back pay and expenses, attorney’s fees, a public apology printed in several newspapers with language to be suggested by Hong, return of personal property, and a return to their jobs. However, the County Council did not accept the settlement offer. Sources inside the Council said the sticking point was the public apology. But unlike with most lawsuits, in which the County Council authorizes their attorney, the County’s Corporation Counsel, to negotiate to get the best possible deal for the County, the County Council did not authorize Corporation Counsel to do any negotiating.
Hong commented that Kawauchi, Yagong and the “Gang of Four” in the current Council leadership (Brenda Ford, Pete Hoffman, Angel Pilago, and Brittany Smart) intentionally ignored this problem, rejected every opportunity to resolve this problem,and left Nakamoto and Ayau no choice but to file this lawsuit.
Hong said it’s tragic that pride and politics were more important to council members than coming to a successful resolution without having to go to court. He says this will now result in a huge and unnecessary expense to County taxpayers.
Kawauchi issued a written statement saying “The Office of the County Clerk will not comment…. ” .