Maui County Council committee votes to reject lawsuit from Don Guzman
After testifiers recounted traumatic stories, a Maui County Council committee on Tuesday voted against taking action on a lawsuit by the county’s former prosecuting attorney who was fired over workplace violence.
The Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee voted 9-0 to file a resolution to authorize an undisclosed settlement with Donald S. Guzman, ex-prosecuting attorney whose claim says his termination violated due process. Despite a recent court ruling that sided with Guzman, council members did not discuss in open session what led to their decision to dismiss the proposal.
Guzman was removed in late 2020 after an investigation and days of testimony detailed incidents of rage at work, including swearing, demeaning comments, threats and physical outbursts.
Leslee Matthews testified during the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee on Tuesday, saying Guzman is “serially abusive to women he’s worked with.” Matthews, a former county deputy prosecuting attorney whose complaint triggered an independent investigation on Guzman, said she’s very upset the proposed settlement is on the agenda.
“Myself along with a number of other women shared our very personal stories of how the former prosecutor harmed us,” she said.
“Any proposed settlement with him is a matter of great public importance and the public deserves to know,” Matthews added.
Maui County Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey during the meeting said the department is legally bound to convey the settlement demand to council; the transmittal does not necessarily mean a settlement is recommended.
“I am obligated by the rules of ethics to convey the settlement demand, but it in no way means that I am urging this body to settle or otherwise,” she said.
US District Court in Hawaii sided with Guzman recently, saying it believes his due process claim has standing.
A June 25 ruling by US District Court Judge Derrick Watson said Guzman should’ve had more notice about complaints against him and the findings of an investigation that partly led to his firing.
Also, the ruling said Guzman should’ve had a chance to gather thoughts and respond to allegations during days of testimony during a council committee hearing considering his removal.
Guzman worked as prosecuting attorney from March 2019 to September 2020. Prior to that, he held council’s Kahului residency seat from 2013 to 2018.
In late 2020, the administration recommended Guzman’s removal due to workplace violence and the council approved it.
After he was terminated in December 2020, Guzman filed a lawsuit against the county, council members and the mayor alleging three separate claims: that his right to privacy was violated; that his right to due process was violated; and that he had been discriminated against based on a disability.
The court dismissed two of the claims, and only the due process complaint remains, Lutey said.
“We are in active litigation,” she said. “And it’s not that we’ve given up here.”
The committee went into executive session prior to the vote, where terms of the confidential settlement demand were discussed.
Maui County Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez before Tuesday’s vote thanked testifiers who again “subjected themselves to reliving the trauma they experienced.”
“A heartfelt mahalo for standing up for yourself and others who aren’t in the position or aren’t able to,” she said. “In filing this, we support.”