Panel advises settlement in director’s suit

Details not released publicly

WAILUKU — The lawsuit filed by Department of Water Supply Director David Taylor against Mayor Alan Arakawa over Taylor’s dismissal last year may be winding down with the parties nearing a settlement.

The Maui County Council’s Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs Committee voted Tuesday to recommend authorizing a settlement of the lawsuit filed against Arakawa in 2nd Circuit Court in January. It alleges defamation, slander, wrongful termination and a violation of Taylor’s due process rights.

Taylor has been on administrative leave, with pay, since Nov. 15. He earns $135,884 annually.

Committee members discussed the settlement resolution in a closed-door executive session. The settlement terms were not disclosed.

Now, the proposed settlement heads to the full council for a vote.

Taylor did not attend the meeting. But afterward, The Maui News reached him by phone and he said: “I sincerely appreciate the support of the council throughout this ordeal.”

He declined further comment.

In December, the full council voted to keep Taylor as water director. Under the County Charter, the mayor may remove a water director, but only with the approval of council. Despite the council’s vote, Arakawa kept Taylor on administrative leave with pay.

After the meeting Tuesday, committee Chairman Don Guzman said he wanted to resolve the matter to avoid higher legal costs.

“For me, the true victim of all of this is the taxpayer,” Guzman said. “It was important we try to at least come to some type of settlement.”

Had the matter gone through litigation, it would have cost more than $75,000 for outside attorney fees, Guzman said.

In April, the committee rejected a draft settlement agreement, and both sides continued to negotiate.

In open session, Deputy Corporation Counsel Brian Bilberry told the committee that county attorneys continue to speak with Taylor and his attorneys.

The county has received invoices from Taylor’s attorneys, which show attorneys’ fees to date. But those were to be discussed in executive session as well, Bilberry said.

While the lawsuit appears to be close to a settlement, more questions surfaced Tuesday after one of Taylor’s attorneys, Lanson Kupau, told the committee during public testimony that the lawyers learned June 1 that Taylor was cleared of criminal wrongdoing one week before his lawsuit was filed.

The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney wrote a Jan. 23 letter to Arakawa reporting that it would not file any criminal charges against Taylor. The letter was provided to the Department of the Corporation Counsel and Taylor, but Taylor did not receive it, Kupau said.

“We only received that letter on June 1, 2018 — four months late,” Kupau told the committee.

The mayor’s administration had said at one point last year that there were unspecified ongoing administrative and criminal investigations of Taylor.

Kupau said no one explained why Taylor was not returned to work in January “when the criminal investigation went nowhere.”

The letter from the Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim to Arakawa said: “This is to inform you that our department has reviewed a report generated by the Maui Police Department regarding criminal allegations of a violation of the Maui County Code 14.07.090. We find that based on the investigation we will not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any criminal intent by Mr. Taylor. We therefore decline to file any criminal violation charges against him.”

Maui County Code 14.07.090 deals with water system development fees. Taylor’s lawyers have said Taylor was under criminal investigation for issuing extensions for water improvement systems.

Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone said: “There are different types of investigations; criminal is one, administrative is another.”

He did not comment further.

Also during public testimony, Kupau said that Taylor “lost his job and was sent home for reasons that remain a mystery.”

“The Water Department has used his professional license and signature without his knowledge or consent, which could expose him to potential liability,” he said. “His reputation has been damaged by unfounded allegations of criminal conduct. And Dave has incurred and paid significant legal fees to defend himself and seek to return to work.”

“Over the last six months, we have tried to resolve this matter,” Kupau said.

Taylor has not asked for compensation, although Kupau said he and Taylor’s other attorneys believe a jury would award him damages.

“All he asked is that he be allowed to return to work, that his name be cleared and that the county pay for his attorneys’ fees,” Kupau said.

Outside the meeting, Kupau disclosed the remainder of his written statement. It said: “We ask that the council assist us in bringing this matter to close and that the people of Maui’s hard-earned money be better used towards more worthy pursuits, instead of paying attorneys to fight and defend a situation that you know in your hearts is wrong.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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