WAILUKU - Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill disqualified Neldon Mamuad as a candidate for mayor on Wednesday afternoon.
His ruling affirmed Maui County Clerk Danny Mateo's preliminary ruling that, because Mamuad failed to file a legally required candidate financial disclosure on a June 3 nomination filing deadline, he was barred from being on the Aug. 9 primary election ballot.
The ruling leaves six candidates for Maui mayor, including the incumbent, Alan Arakawa.
Second Circuit Court Judge Peter Cahill presides over Wednesday’s hearing, ruling that Neldon Mamuad is disqualified from being a candidate for mayor of Maui County.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
Neldon Mamuad (left), founder of the MAUIWatch Facebook page, shakes hands with his attorney, Evans Smith, after a ruling Wednesday in favor of Maui County. The ruling disqualified Mamuad as a mayoral candidate.
The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo
"I truly feel for you, Mr. Mamuad," Cahill said. "As a matter of law, this is a situation where strict compliance with filing requirements is necessary. . . . You don't have any equitable relief in something that strict in its application."
Cahill was referring to requirements set forth by the Maui County Charter and Code. Legally, a political candidate must file a financial disclosure form concurrently with his or her nomination papers on a specified deadline.
Nevertheless, "I think Mr. Mamuad genuinely was trying to do the right thing," the judge said.
According to court testimony, Mamuad filed his financial disclosure statement via email two days after the June 3 deadline. The Maui County clerk's office had discovered the disclosure was not attached to Mamuad's nomination forms and contacted him.
In the two-day court hearing, Mamuad said he relied on statements by elections division clerks, indicating that his financial disclosure form filed earlier as a county liquor commissioner was sufficient. Mamuad maintained there was a miscommunication between himself and the clerk's staff.
A clerk testified that while she had spoken to Mamuad about the financial disclosure requirement, she told him he would need to submit changes to forms.
After Wednesday's decision, Mamuad's attorney, Evans Smith, said he wasn't sure if his client would appeal.
"People were under the impression the financial disclosure was something I simply overlooked," Mamuad said in a written statement Wednesday evening. "This was not about knowing how to read instructions or follow directions. This was about being ill-advised by the clerk's staff."
Mamuad said he's learned his lesson.
"I should have erred on the safe side and filed a new disclosure with my nomination papers, but I followed the instructions of the staff," he said. "I've never had an issue with filing the financial disclosure. I've been doing it for three years (as a liquor commissioner), and they were all current and in good standing."
Mamuad said he and his campaign supporters were disappointed in the outcome, "but mostly we're disappointed for the voters of Maui County who will now have one less choice in new leadership. We do respect the decision of the court, and we wish all of the candidates, including the mayor, the very best and look forward to observing a spirited campaign season."
Mamuad said he has not decided whether he will continue to pursue the Office of Mayor or any other political office in the future.
In court, Cahill noted that Mamuad filed his papers "under the gun" (on the day of the deadline and a half hour before county offices closed), but he still would have had time from June 2, when he pulled his papers, and June 3, the filing deadline, to go to the Maui County Board of Ethics to get his financial disclosure forms he filed as a liquor commissioner.
"He didn't do that. It was a very simple thing to do," Cahill said.
Cahill noted Tuesday's testimony from county Board of Ethics Secretary Angela Andrade. She said Mamuad's liquor commissioner financial disclosure documents would not have been transferrable to the Office of the County Clerk because commissioner financial disclosure documents are private.
If the documents were transmitted to the Office of the County Clerk for a candidate, they would become a public record, Andrade testified.
Cahill said he found county elections division clerk Desiree Hoku Fukuoka to be a "very credible witness." Fukuoka testified that she did go over the filing procedures with Mamuad. She said Mamuad did point out that he had a current liquor commission member financial disclosure form on file.
Fukuoka said she told Mamuad that she could make a copy of that file, but that he needed - on his own - to check off different boxes on a candidacy form, to re-sign a form and to make other changes to his paperwork.
"She genuinely tried to help Mr. Mamuad to do what he needed to do to qualify (for office)," Cahill said.
Although Cahill ruled in favor of the county, he did note that the wording in a filing direction given to candidates could be confusing.
He said the instructions say that an original financial disclosure document should be filed with the Board of Ethics and a copy with the Office of the County Clerk, all concurrently with a nomination form.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Caleb Rowe agreed that there could be some confusion because a person could not concurrently file documents at two county offices.
In closing arguments Wednesday, Smith said laws should be interpreted to promote candidacy, not restrict it.
"It's all about the choice of the people," he said.
Smith said Mamuad's decision to follow the directions of the clerk was like a motorist abiding by the orders of a police officer directing traffic, even if the order was to go through a red light at an intersection.
In his closing arguments, Rowe said there were 28 other candidates who successfully filed to run for office by the June 3 deadline with the Office of the County Clerk.
He noted that 10 of those candidates were incumbents, who all were able to file new financial disclosure forms.
"Twenty-eight (political) candidates followed those rules, one Mr. Mamuad has not," Rowe said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.