Maui County Council committee votes to dismiss Don Guzman lawsuit

Leslee Matthews testifies before the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee on Tuesday. She was an assistant district attorney whose complaint sparked an independent investigation into then-county district attorney Don Guzman. PC: Screenshot
Donald S. Guzman. PC: file photo

After witnesses told traumatic stories, a Maui County Board committee voted Tuesday against the lawsuit filed by the former county attorney who was fired for workplace violence.

The Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee voted 9-0 to file a resolution authorizing an undisclosed settlement with Donald S. Guzman, a former prosecutor whose claim says his firing violated due process. Despite a recent court ruling that sided with Guzman, board members did not discuss in open session what led to their decision to reject the proposal.

Guzman was fired in late 2020 after an investigation and days of detailed testimony into incidents of workplace rage, including swearing, degrading comments, threats and physical outbursts.

Leslee Matthews testified before the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee on Tuesday, saying Guzman was “seriously abusive towards the women he worked with.” Matthews, a former assistant county prosecutor whose complaint sparked an independent investigation into Guzman, said she was very upset that the proposed settlement was on the agenda.

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“I and a number of other women shared our very personal stories of how the former prosecutor hurt us,” she said.

“Any proposed settlement with him is a matter of great public importance and the public deserves to know that,” Matthews added.

At the meeting, Maui County Corporation attorney Moana Lutey said the department was legally required to forward the settlement request to the board; transmission does not necessarily mean that settlement is recommended.

“I am obligated by ethics rules to forward the claim, but that in no way means that I am urging this organization to settle or otherwise,” she said.

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The U.S. District Court in Hawaii recently sided with Guzman, saying it believed his claim for due process was valid.

A June 25 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson said Guzman should have been made more aware of the complaints against him and the findings of an investigation that in part led to his dismissal.

Additionally, the ruling said Guzman should have been given the opportunity to gather insights and respond to allegations during days of testimony at a council committee hearing considering his removal.

Guzman worked as a prosecutor from March 2019 to September 2020. Previously, he held the Kahului council residence seat from 2013 to 2018.

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In late 2020, the administration recommended Guzman’s dismissal due to workplace violence, and the board approved it.

After being fired in December 2020, Guzman filed a lawsuit against the county, council members and the mayor alleging three separate allegations: that his right to privacy was violated; that his right to due process has been violated; and that he had been discriminated against on the basis of 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 gave up here.”

The committee met in executive session prior to the vote, where the terms of the confidential settlement were discussed.

Maui County Council Deputy Speaker Keani Rawlins-Fernandez ahead of Tuesday’s vote thanked the witnesses who again “submitted to relive the trauma they went through.”

“A sincere mahalo to stand up for himself and others who are not in a position or unable to,” she said. “By filing this, we support.”

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