County appeals harassment ruling
HILO » Hawaii County has filed an appeal of a federal judge's ruling that requires the county to pay more than $100,000 to a former county employee who alleged she was subjected to unwanted sexual pressure by County Councilman Stacy Higa in 2005.
Higa, a candidate for mayor, has repeatedly said he did no wrong.
"This claim has no merit, and I am fighting to get this corrected," Higa wrote in a blog on his campaign Web site.
The county has filed an appeal of the case with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Speaking in general about appeals, county attorney Lincoln Ashida said no money is paid out in such cases until appeals are final.
Since all documents in this case are sealed, the exact nature of former employee Melissa Chang's allegations against Higa are not public.
None of the parties in the case are supposed to comment because of a gag order imposed by federal judge William Schmidt at the request of Chang's attorney, Stanford Masui.
After Schmidt ruled last month, a knowledgeable source said the judgment in Chang's favor was more than $200,000, but Chang has received some worker's compensation payments, reducing the net amount the county must pay to her.
In addition to Higa's alleged role, sources have said that former Councilman Jimmy Arakaki and former County Clerk Connie Kiriu were also accused by Chang of involvement; Arakaki for allegedly urging Chang not to file a complaint, and Kiriu for allegedly failing to stop Higa's alleged acts.
However, no individual is charged with wrongdoing in Chang's final federal complaint.
An April 21 letter from Ashida to the County Council makes clear that only Hawaii County and the County Council are named as "respondents."
Higa has repeatedly said he was called only as a witness. That means a lawyer could not represent him and could not question Chang.
Higa told the Star-Bulletin he would have preferred to be sued in open court. "I'm not afraid to be sued because that's the way you get vindicated," he said.
On his Web site, he adds, "When people look into this plaintiff's history, there will be some startling information. I think that is the reason why the case was sealed. It is very common for people to sue the County for frivolous reasons. They are hoping for easy money during an election year."
Masui, Arakaki and Kiriu did not return calls asking for comment.