A 3rd Circuit Court judge will consider next month tossing the remaining defamation charges made by two Hawaii County election workers fired a year ago.
Pat Nakamoto and Shyla Ayau filed the lawsuits against the county, former County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and former County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong last year alleging false and misleading information was leaked to the media about an investigation that led to them losing their jobs. They are seeking unspecified damages, said their attorney, Ted Hong.
Judge Elizabeth Strance granted a motion to dismiss in the Nakamoto case in November, ruling the county could not be sued since the claims would be covered by state worker compensation laws. The dismissal also applied to Yagong and Kawauchi in their official capacities but not as private individuals, leaving them as defendants in the lawsuit.
The county is seeking the same dismissal in Ayau’s lawsuit, while the attorney representing the former clerk and former chairman has also filed separate motions to dismiss in both cases.
All three motions will be considered Feb. 15. Hong said he plans to appeal any dismissal, including the one already granted.
The Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today have both been subpoenaed in the cases.
Nakamoto and Ayau were two of four elections workers fired in January 2012 after Kawauchi found that the elections warehouse had been used to store alcohol and private sign-making equipment, and that post-election parties had been held on the premises.
As part of a union grievance process, Nakamoto was reinstated as Elections Division supervisor in July with back pay but immediately claimed a leave of absence due to stress. She returned to the job Dec. 4, said County Clerk Stewart Maeda.
Kawauchi’s last day on the job was Dec. 3.
Ayau, an elections clerk, was also reinstated but took a job in the Kauai County Clerk’s Office.
In the Nakamoto case, Strance ruled the lawsuit could not apply to the county as well as Kawauchi and Yagong in their official capacities since the claims arose from actions related to her employment with the county. Claims would instead have to be handled through the worker compensation process, which Hong said would likely result in less compensation.
He said he expects the judge to make the same ruling in the Ayau case.
Yung said he is seeking to have his clients fully dismissed from the cases because he doesn’t believe the plaintiffs have proven “willful and wanton” conduct.
“You can’t just say it and go forward,” he said. “You have to cite some specific instances that would justify it.”
Election workers Elton Nakagawa and Glen Shikuma were also fired.
Nakagawa was reinstated; Shikuma, a former warehouse manager, died of an aneurysm in August before going through a union grievance process.