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Tuesday, July 4, 2000

City attorney
had clerk watch
Kahapea trial

Kahapea's lawyer suggests
that may have allowed collusion
by city witnesses

By Debra Barayuga


A law clerk who sat in on the Michael Kahapea theft trial was asked to take notes and report back on any issues the city may need to respond to, according to the city's corporation counsel.

But she did not share her notes or discuss them with any of the city witnesses after they testified.

She and Corporation Counsel David Arakawa did not meet with city witnesses or brief them before they testified in court, Arakawa testified yesterday.

Ewa Villages Trial Don Wilkerson, attorney for Kahapea, who is on trial for allegedly stealing $5.8 million from the city's Ewa Villages relocation fund, requested the hearing to determine whether the corporation counsel's office, by having the clerk in the courtroom, had "circumvented" the rule that bars potential witnesses from the courtroom so their testimony will not be affected.

If so, Wilkerson wanted to know whether that prejudiced his client's right to a fair trial.

Arakawa said the clerk, Cheryl Arakaki, reported infrequently to him and that when they did talk, briefly, it concerned what someone was wearing in court, what was laughed about or a funny question raised. "Nothing about the case itself."

He also said he could not recall any significant issues that she reported back on that the city needed to follow up on.

Arakaki, a UH law student who was volunteering with the corporation counsel's office since June 1, had sat in intermittently during the earlier part of the trial and was observed taking notes.

While Arakaki is not a potential witness, she is working for Arakawa, who is one of several city employees, including Mayor Jeremy Harris and Deputy Managing Director Malcolm Tom, whom the defense hopes to call to testify when it begins its case Friday.

Wilkerson is concerned that city employees who have testified, including Randall Wong and Avis Kamimura, may have been briefed about what previous city employees testified to, resulting in "slanted" testimony or "collusion" by the corporation counsel's office.

Arakaki testified yesterday that she was assigned to sit in on the trial when she didn't have work at the office and "generally observe."

If issues came up that city attorneys may have to respond to, she would report to Arakawa so he could "respond properly," she said.

Arakawa, during questioning by Wilkerson, acknowledged that he has requested transcripts of the trial, including those of city employees who testified, to help the city in its internal investigation of other city employees for the purposes of discipline. The city is also contemplating filing a lawsuit against Kahapea to try to recover some of the money it has lost.

Arakaki said she told Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee on the second day she attended trial that she was working for the corporation counsel. Lee, outside the courtroom, said he never heard her say that.

Graulty is expected to rule on Wilkerson's motion tomorrow.

Arakaki, in her last year at the William S. Richardson School of Law, has since been hired by the corporation counsel as a clerk.

In afternoon testimony, Wilkerson attempted to find fault with police Capt. Daniel Hanagami's investigation.

Hanagami said former Oahu Sugar executive A.J. Wriston acknowledged signing off on only six to 12 of 78 claim forms for payment to the city for relocation.

Wilkerson questioned why Hanagami's white-collar crime unit did not probe deeper into the discrepancy by, among other things, asking a handwriting expert to compare the signatures on the claims, which amounted to some $3.2 million in payments from the relocation fund.

Hanagami said the unique nature of Wriston's signature would have made it difficult for the police expert to evaluate precisely.

Staff writer Gordon Y.K. Pang also contributed to this report.

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