Council Approves Funds to Fight Mamuad LawsuitApril 4, 2014, 2:39 PM HST · Updated April 4, 3:34 PM 0 Comments
By Maui Now Staff
The Maui County Council today adopted a resolution authorizing up to $50,000 for special counsel in a civil case filed by liquor commissioner and part-time county employee Neldon Mamuad against the County of Maui.
Mamuad, a former radio personality, is seeking a temporary restraining order against the county claiming he is being threatened for his speech and conduct on the MauiWATCH Facebook page he operates.
While Mamuad’s lawsuit claims his First Amendment rights are being violated, Councilman Don Couch said the “real issue” is a complaint involving an officer of the county — Neldon Mamuad, versus an employee of the county — police officer Keith Taguma.
The Facebook page was launched under the name TagumaWATCH, and was based on Officer Taguma, who is well-known for his work as a traffic policeman.
The page was adapted from a radio segment that Mamuad once hosted under the same name. The name of the Facebook page was later changed after a complaint alleging harassment surfaced.
The suit, filed by the ACLU on behalf of Mamuad, seeks a jury trial and asks the court to “expunge any record of disciplinary action” from the plaintiff’s employment records, alleging that efforts were made to restrict what he “may say” on the Facebook feed.
“It was portrayed in one of the newspapers circulated here that this was a First Amendment issue, and it certainly is not — especially since Mr. Wong (Corporation Counsel for the County of Maui) said on the floor in public session that they do not want to shut down the MauiWATCH site,” said Couch.
“While discussion has been about First Amendment — and I think every member supports the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment — let us also not forget that we are also in a society now that deals with a lot of virtual reality, and that mental abuse is just as serious as physical hands,” said Councilman Riki Hokama who introduced the motion.
According to the suit, the plaintiff was ordered to attend counseling and training sessions and was warned of “additional discipline” if he failed to comply with guidelines set forth in the disciplinary action.
While members did not discuss what transpired during an executive session, Hokama said, “This member considers cyberbullying to be a very serious issue. It’s already something that our sister counties deal with. It’s an issue that we need to deal with in greater intensity; but for me, it’s not a one-sided issue of what is before the body.”
Councilman Michael Victorino who also voted in favor of the expenditure said, “Cyberbullying, First Amendment rights — I mean like anything else, you can wrap things up in a real nice ball and make things look the way you want it to look. I just think it’s time that we go ahead and move forward.”
The funds will be used to hire Marr Jones & Wang as special council in the case, and was approved with six members voting in favor, and Councilman Mike White casting the lone ‘no’ vote.
“I won’t be supporting the motion,” said White who explained, “I continue to feel that this situation was avoidable and unfortunate; and I think the amount of money that is being requested is significantly higher than should be necessary with this kind of a situation.”
Councilman Don Guzman recused himself at an earlier meeting from voting because Mamuad is a part-time employee at his office; and the remaining council member, Robert Carroll, was excused from today’s meeting.
In an earlier interview with Guzman, he said that there was no way for Mamuad to appeal the process, which he said presents a “due process issue.”
Councilwoman Stacy Crivello was among those who voted in favor of the measure saying, “The intent of supporting the hiring of special counsel is not for us to be the courts — I don’t believe I’m the one to put judgement on anyone. I do question how it all came about today. I’m also concerned if this will suffice the charges, or if we will be coming back for more. I can support the hiring of special counsel, but not to throw judgement on either side; and let the courts decide.”
Hokama said hiring special counsel will enable the body to get the appropriate evidence on record. “I believe that once all the facts are brought forward — whether it be in the court or in another executive session — that the county can then be confident in moving forward, and a decision today will help us reach an appropriate decision,” he said.
“If this enables more information to be heard, to be gathered, to be vetted out, and sort of clear the air on everything, then so be it,” said Councilwoman Elle Cochran. “I kind of would like to know what the status is of any changes since the initial deliberations and discussion of the subject matter.”
In an earlier interview, Guzman noted that the disciplinary action was handed down by Managing Director Keith Regan on the administrative side of the county that governs boards and commissions where Mamuad is a volunteer commissioner, not from Council Chair Gladys Baisa, who governs council services where Mamuad is employed.
Council Chair Gladys Baisa today voted in support of the funding saying, “I am very comfortable in supporting this request today. I think it will take us to another level where everyone will understand what everybody is wanting to know and all these concerns about First Amendment rights and whatever. We need to get going here so that we can settle this.”
“Lets get to the bottom of it. I’d like to end it. I share the concern about money. All of us know that we have serious money needs in this county and we don’t want to spend money on things we don’t need, but sometimes we have to do it, and I think this is one of those times. I think that as officers of the county and as people who took an oath, I feel that I have to support this motion,” said Baisa.
DISCLOSURE: Mamuad was formerly employed with Pacific Radio Group when he hosted The Big Phat Morning Show along side co-host G-Money. The company has since been renamed Pacific Media Group and owns Maui Now, which is not associated with Mamuad’s operation. Mamuad stopped hosting the radio program in 2007.