Monday, October 18, 2010




by Andy Parx

(PNN) -- The $250,000 settlement of a “hostile/violent work environment” Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint identified only as “Jane Doe vs. County of Kaua`i” was actually a complaint filed by former Deputy County Attorney Margaret Hanson-Sueoka according to records illegally revealed by County Attorney Al Castillo.

The case apparently goes back to early 2002 during the waning days of Mayor Maryanne Kusaka’s administration but the precipitating incident occurred, not in administration offices where the county attorney’s offices are housed but in the “workplace” of council services.

According to numerous council services employees, past reporters and “regulars” at council meetings at the time, then and present County Clerk Peter Nakamura allegedly “beat up” Hanson-Sueoka, who was at the time his “girlfriend”, causing Hanson to seek a restraining order against Nakamura.

Though some alleged that at the time Nakamura was actually arrested others claim that he was not, with some of those saying that this was due to his position and Hanson-Sueoka’s refusal to press charges due to fear of repercussions on her job situation. Almost all however agreed in maintaining that Hanson had obtained a protective restraining order against Nakamura after telling people she was assaulted by him.

Although the county clerk heads the “council services” office and runs every aspect of council doings including hiring and firing of personnel, technically Hanson-Sueoka’s boss was the county attorney although the attorney assigned to the council often works closely and under the supervision of the county clerk.

But EEOC law also covers those that, while technically are not “superiors, but those that act as such.

An examination of county records and newspaper articles indicates Hanson-Sueoka was soon terminated from her plum assignment as attorney for the council and, when the Bryan Baptiste administration took over in December of 2002, she was retained as a deputy in new CA Lani Nakazawa’s office but assigned to attend various long and often boring and routine board and commission meetings to provide attorney advice.

Hanson-Sueoka remained with the office when Nakazawa left and was replaced by CA Matthew Pyun, and was the main county attorney involved in the infamous removal from office of Police Commission Chair Michael Ching- as well as the cover-up of the hearing judge’s full report exonerating Ching- and the resulting politically motivated firing of Police Chief KC Lum.

But when Bernard Carvalho was elected as mayor in 2008 and appointed Castillo, Hanson was fired for no stated reason, although her EEOC case presumably maintains it was retaliatory for whistle-blowing for past the incidents.

The EEOC complaint was filed after Hanson-Sueoka’s firing by Castillo and confirmation of the $250,000 award- along with the confirmation that it was a hostile/violent workplace compliant- came at least week’s council meeting as part of a presentation by Councilpersons Lani Kawahara and Tim Bynum on the pervasive disregard for sexual harassment and hostile work environment laws by the county.

At the meeting the pair cited the “Jane Doe” case and that of Kristan Hirakawa- a case detailed by PNN over the past year- saying cases against the county are rarely if ever even investigated and that harassers are apparently never disciplined much less fired even after judgments against the county.

The incident in 2002 was the talk of the county building at the time including among councilmembers who were called into executive session to discuss personnel issues within council services although none would confirm publicly that the subject was Nakamura who remains on the job today despite the settlement.

Though the incident occurred during the time when then Councilperson Ron Kouchi was the chair of the council after the 2002 election- where he ran and lost in a bid to be mayor- current Chair Kaipo Asing took over and has remained chair ever since okaying, along with the rest of the council, various settlements for harassment of county employees as well as reappointing Nakamura as county clerk every two years.

Though EEOC cases are, by federal law, to be kept confidential, after firing Hanson-Sueoka Castillo twice revealed that indeed she was the EEOC plaintiff, the first time on the council agenda for April 22, 2009 where he requested executive session (ES) 382 which read in part,

the Office of the County Attorney requests an executive session with the Council to provide the Council a briefing on Margaret H. Sueoka v. County of Kaua`i, EEOC Charge No. 486-2009-00268 and/or related matters and/or subsequent legal proceedings resulting in any way from this matter.

Then, even after a rejected request from PNN to examine the EEOC case files- where we were told by the CA’s office that federal law maintains strict confidentiality for EEOC complaints, superseding the state sunshine law- in a local newspaper article on August 28, 2009 about the $3 million that has been spent on outside counsel to defend lawsuits against the county, reporter Michael Levine wrote:

“Since I’ve been here, the only (lawsuit) that is mine is the Sueoka case, and that’s one where we really didn’t have a choice,” Castillo said, in reference to an equal employment opportunity claim filed against the county by former Deputy County Attorney Margaret Sueoka. He said having a staff attorney handle the case could constitute a conflict of interest.

But recently all references on council agendas to the Hanson-Sueoka case were noted as “Jane Doe vs. County of Kaua`i” although both the recent postings and the one for April of 2009 referred to the same “Charge number”, 486-2009-00268.

Talk regarding the original incident when Nakamura was alleged to have “beat up” Hanson- who has since married and changed her name to Sueoka- was pervasive at the county building in 2002 when PNN was actively covering weekly council meetings and, while more than a dozen people repeated the story about Nakamura and Hanson, PNN has not been able to confirm the incidents through documentation.

It should be noted that this report was compiled after speaking to many knowledgeable sources both in 2002 and this week and after a review of our notes from that era. It is the best available rendering of the truth of what has occurred in this case. All undocumented allegation are just that- undocumented allegations.

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