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Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Letter to
Mansho aide by
city questioned

But city attorneys say
they are not trying to
keep a witness quiet

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City attorneys sent a letter to a witness in the Rene Mansho investigation, asking her to retract "any and all claims against Ms. Mansho" as a condition of a $14,000 settlement of her workers' compensation case.

But Corporation Counsel David Arakawa says the Oct. 19 letter signed by Deputy Corporation Counsel Paul Tsukiyama should not be interpreted to mean that Michelle Kidani, a Mansho staff aide, was being discouraged from talking to investigators looking into Mansho's activities as a condition for receiving the money.

David Simons, Kidani's attorney, said he was surprised when he received the letter, but he is satisfied that the city did not intend to prevent Kidani from talking.

Nonetheless, sources said, the letter has been forwarded to law enforcement agencies.

Mansho said she has not told former or current employees what to tell parties investigating her activities, nor has she had city attorneys do so. She also denied intimidating employees from testifying. She referred other questions to Arakawa.

Bob Watada, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, declined to say whether the letter was part of his agency's investigation into whether Mansho used her campaign funds for purposes other than re-election.

"Let me just say that if we feel there's any kind of illegal or improper activity, our responsibility is to turn it over to the prosecutor, attorney general or possibly the U.S. attorney's office," Watada said.

The letter to Simons calls on Kidani "to provide a written retraction of any and all claims alleged against Ms. Mansho, including, but not limited to, allegations of campaign spending violations, improper campaign activities on city time and/or premises, retaliation/whistleblower violations, and gender discrimination."

Arakawa and Tsukiyama said that when the letter was written, they had no knowledge of any allegations Kidani would make against Mansho and did not know she was going to testify before the Campaign Spending Commission. Tsukiyama's letter, they said, was an attempt to determine any possible claims Kidani might file against the city.

Simons said the language in the communication appears to be a misunderstanding and that at no other time was there even a hint that city attorneys wanted to influence what Kidani would tell the Campaign Spending or Ethics commissions.

Simons said he called the corporation counsel's office immediately after reading the letter.

"We were very clear right away that they were not intending to ask Michelle to withhold any information or change any stories," Simons said, noting that Kidani later did testify under subpoena before the Campaign Spending Commission.

Arakawa and Tsukiyama, questioned about the wording of the letter, referred the Star-Bulletin to a follow-up letter sent to Simons on Nov. 15, which stated "this office was not proposing that Ms. Kidani provide any false or misleading testimony in connection with these matters."

Arakawa said city attorneys are "prohibited by law from publicly disclosing the terms of settlement negotiations in an ongoing workers' compensation case."

Prior to meeting with the Campaign Spending Commission, Simons said, Kidani met with Tsukiyama in connection with her workers' compensation claim.

Tsukiyama "wanted to ... find out everything she had to say because they wanted to know, including about campaign spending, and Michelle went in there and told them everything, told them exactly what she told the Campaign Spending Commission a few days later," Simons said.

The issue involving Kidani and the city has not been resolved, Simons said. "This whole thing (publicity of the letter) has probably slowed this process down."

After Kidani was demoted as Mansho's chief of staff, she hired Simons to pursue a claim, although nothing has been formally filed, Simons said. Kidani has been on sick leave since summer.

Watada said last week that it appeared attempts were being made to stymie the Mansho case, a charge he reiterated when queried by the Star-Bulletin.

"I did say that part of the information we have is, there has been an attempt to frustrate our efforts to investigate this," he said.

"Our attempts to talk to staffers, former staffers, while investigating this have been frustrated. We called a witness in, and the witness failed to show up. Other staffers have said they will not talk to us for fear of reprisals from Council member Mansho."

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