Ashida’s request was to discuss hiring special counsel for the county regarding claims filed against the county by attorney Ted Hong, on behalf of four former Elections Office employees. Ashida said he and his entire staff had a conflict of interest in the case and could not represent the county. The exact nature of the conflict was unclear Wednesday.
Don’t be surprised if Ted Hong bails on his threat to sue the county.
In January, Hong, the attorney representing three Hawaii County Elections workers fired by County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, announced plans to file a defamation lawsuit seeking $500,000 compensation for each client if the grievance process did not go their way.
These days Hong would settle for a low-end two figure payout to escape his shibai.
The terminated employees are elections program administrator Patricia Nakamoto; warehouse manager Glen Shikuma; Shyla Ayau; and Elton Nakagawa. All but Nakagawa are represented by Hong.
The workers were fired after alcohol and privately-owned sign-making equipment were discovered in the county elections warehouse.
Hawaii County employees are not allowed to possess alcohol or conduct private businesses on county property.
Significantly, Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida declined to represent the county in the grievance process — citing an unexplained “conflict of interest” in his department. This left Chairman Dominic Yagong and the County Council scrambling to hire private attorneys using county purchase orders.
Thickening the soup, Hawaii County Finance Director Nancy Crawford then refused to honor those purchase orders, saying that, according to the County Charter, the County Council must render a two-thirds majority vote to appoint a special counsel.
Then last week (in a closed door session) the Hawaii County Council rejected Lincoln Ashida’s request that a Special Counsel be appointed to defend the County against grievance claims represented by Hong. From the Hawaii Tribune-Herald:
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said no precedent existed for the council to hire special counsel for the county prior to litigation being initiated. “Mr. Ashida continues to belabor an issue that is nonexistent,” Ford said. “The county does not have any liability.”
So, we have Ted Hong threatening to sue the county, while Corporation Counsel Ashida ducks out the back door.
What has been unstated in the media until now is that Lincoln Ashida’s campaign spending report shows that he accepted a $200 campaign contribution from Ted Hong after Ashida announced his candidacy for County Prosecutor.
Could this offer a clue to the “conflict of interest” cited by Ashida in the election workers case? More on that in a moment.
The Hawaii County Charter requires a two-thirds vote for special counsel when special matters present a real necessity for special counsel, such as actual litigation.
We have no litigation. But we do have a grievance procedure in which chief Corp. Counsel Ashida has refused to participate — all because of a “conflict of interest.”
Now let’s consider the context of the offenses committed by the fired workers.
Fired elections division employee Glen Shikuma was the owner of the printing equipment. According to Ted Hong, Shikuma’s printing business was widely known among county officials, because he routinely provided ‘free’ printing services to county employees.
It also appears that Shikuma — in his role as a diligent purveyor of free printing services to the county — kept a logbook of his printing operations.
The name “Ashida” is said to appear in Glen Shikuma’s logbook.
Is this the “conflict of interest” which prevented Lincoln Ashida from performing his lawful duties as Hawaii County’s Corporation Counsel?
The undisclosed conflict of interest dooms Ashida. Hawaii County cannot allow Ashida to represent our County unless our County Council independently (by way of its own attorney) thereby waives and releases Ashida’s conflict of interest. Or fires Ashida based on the Ashida name in Shikuma’s logbook.
Read Curtis Narimatsu's blog here.
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