Wednesday, April 22, 2009

(PNN) COUNCIL TO SPEND $50,000 TO DEFEND SUEOKA EEOC CHARGE

Former long time Deputy County Attorney Margaret Sueoka has filed an EEOC complaint that has resulted in a case against the county that is apparently serious enough that the county attorney’s office is asking the council for 50,000 to defend the charge.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has substantiated the claim to the extent that they have filed a “charge” and given the case a number (486-2009-00268) but any detailed information is “not available to anyone except to parties” of the case according to an EEOC intake representative and, at least preliminarily, the state according to Amy Esaki current First Deputy CA for the county.

Esaki said after briefly checking with the state Office of Information Practices (OIP) the county’s position is that any further information is, at least for now, protected at the state level by HRS section 92F-14, claiming that the privacy issues involved outweigh the public interest in releasing the charges made by Sueoka.

PNN was unable to contact Sueoka and there is no number listed for her name.

Sueoka was apparently fired sometime during the change of administration and resultant change in county attorneys presumably by either Esaki, who was interim CA, or by current CA Al Castillo. Sueoka was sworn in on December 1 with the rest of the deputy CA’s.

Esaki said she couldn’t comment or provide any details surrounding the firing. even the fact that Sueoka was terminated, although the EEOC charge apparently verifies that.

It is unknown what the basis of the charge is although usually the EEOC deals with cases of discrimination against a “protected class” such as in race, gender or age bias.

Though no information on the specifics exist, some political insiders have speculated that Sueoka was fired due to the various controversial opinions she wrote, advice she gave and cases she pursued when she worked for former CA’s Lani Nakazawa and Matthew Pyun.

Nakazawa and Pyun initiated a widely criticized and unprecedented era of secrecy in the CA’s office as PNN has detailed in past reports, claiming that the CA’s only function was to serve the administration and council and that all official opinions rendered were the sole possession of those to whom they were issued and that only those so advised could release them to the public.

Previously, although county law is silent on the matter, most CA written opinions were considered public record, as state law requires of attorneys general’s opinions.

It has been revealed in various public session of boards and commissions including those of the council, that Sueoka, along with Nakazawa, had written the opinion that bans public release by the CA’s office and removed any public component to the CA office’s duties.

In addition, it has been revealed at meetings that she penned many of the advisory opinions that seemed to fly in the face of exiting laws and regulations. But since they were secret, no one could challenge them on the particulars.

Sueoka was instrumental in the apparent railroading of former police chief KC Lum by the Board of Ethics (BOE)- at the council and mayor’s behest- serving as the long time legal advisor of the beleaguered BOE. She also apparently wrote the still-secret opinion that allowed violations of the prohibitions in section 20.02(D) of the county charter that PNN’s investigatory three part series detailed this and last week.

Based on some of Castillo’s words and actions at various meetings over the past month or so he has been in office it is thought – or at least hoped- by many county government observers that he will be reversing many of Sueoka’s, Pyun’s and Nakazawa’s opinions.

Castillo has been observed with shocked expressions, eye rolling and head shaking upon observing the consequences of the apparent misconceptions of law, as stated by members of the various bodies (including the county council and BOE), based on Sueoka’s legal advice.

He has also given verbal indications that a potential change in policy is in the works at some of those meetings.

Both Esaki and Castillo are new to the CA’s office, Castillo coming from private practice after a stint in the prosecutor’s office in the 90’s and Esaki coming from council services where she served as a legal analyst for many years.

Both are considered to be “straight shooters” by various sources who have worked with them over the years although it cannot be verified if any of this was in any way behind the firing of Sueoka.

According to sources both are primed to clean up the CA’s office and repair its severely tarnished reputation, built through the years by issuing opinions that served the reported paternalistic and secretive efforts of Kaua`i County Council Chair Kaipo Asing and the administration of former Mayor Bryan Baptiste.

The CA’s office has also been under fire for the inordinate number of cases referred to “special counsel”- a small cabal of outside Honolulu attorneys who seem to most political observers and government watchdogs almost incapable of winning a case

That has cost the county millions in attorneys’ fees and more in settlements, much to councilmembers’ vocal chagrin.

Though the particulars of the Sueoka case are confidential to non-parties according to the EEOC itself, the public interest vs. private concerns may be less inviolable if it can be shown that there is a great public interest in releasing the details of the case.

Esaki said she presented the specific case to the OIP- the body that administrates the Uniform Information Practices Act or UIPA (HRS 92F) and the Sunshine Law (HRS 92 Section 1)- but attorney Linden Joesting of OIP, who spoke to Esaki, said that her counsel was just “advice over the phone” based on “preliminary information” and was not to be taken as a formal ruling as to whether the public interest in this case might outweigh Sueoka’s privacy interest of.

Joesting said she had not seen anything in writing but said that if we made a formal written request for the record of the case from the county and were denied she would be able to make, if not a formal ruling at least more than a preliminary one.

PNN will be filing that request tomorrow with the CA’s office and has been promised the denial will be expedited.

Joesting also indicated that it all might depend on EEOC rules on releasing the case file about which she didn’t have enough information to determine if there were strict or situational-dependent prohibitions against public release of the documents regarding the case.

This is not the first recent case of an EEOC charge. As PNN reported in December Kaua`i Bus driver Kathleen M. Ah Quin has filed suit against the Kaua`i Department of Transportation- specifically Executive on Transportation Janine Rapozo- for gender discrimination after the county refused to answer or even, according to her suit, investigate an EEOC complaint. The council also appropriated $50,000 at the time to defend that case.

Rapozo, a holdover from the Baptiste administration, is the wife of now Parks and Recreation Department head Lenny Rapozo who served as current Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s campaign manager in the fall 2008 campaign for mayor.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

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