Higa wants to be part of harassment lawsuit
HILO » Big Island mayoral candidate and County Councilman Stacy Higa, accused of sexual harassment by a former county employee, will try to become a party to a pending federal case so he can defend himself, his new lawyer, Michael Nauyokas, said in a statement Monday.
Although the harassment allegations by former County Council aide Melissa Chang focused on Higa, he was never named as a defendant in her complaint to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Only the county and the County Council were named, according to letters released by top county attorney Lincoln Ashida.
Because Higa is not a defendant, he testified in a trial-like hearing last year only as a witness and could not have a lawyer present.
Nauyokas said Higa was the "target" of Chang's complaint and should have had a county lawyer who was independent from the ones who defended the Council as a whole. Nauyokas accused the county lawyers of "fundamental inadequacy."
In a letter to Nauyokas, Ashida said he already checked with the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which provides guidance on the actions of lawyers. The office found no fault, Ashida said.
Ashida suggested Higa's position is linked to his campaign for mayor.
"It is becoming increasingly evident that Mr. Higa's personal interests with respect to his position in the community during his present mayoral bid may not be consistent with the Council's interests of obtaining information they believe they are entitled to as a named party in the case," Ashida wrote to Nauyokas.
All of this is taking place against a background of silence on the specifics of the allegations. Federal Administrative Law Judge William Schmidt imposed a gag order on all parties at the request of Chang's attorney, Stanford Masui.
Schmidt ruled in Chang's favor, and imposed financial penalties against the county of roughly $200,000, according to a knowledgeable source. Because Higa is not a defendant, he would not have to pay any money.
The case is now on appeal to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The judge "misapplied" the law and "made erroneous conclusions," Ashida said in a letter to Nauyokas.