Wong resigns; Lutey is named corporation counsel
Even with charges dropped, mayor accepts resignation
WAILUKU — Maui County’s top civil lawyer, Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong, resigned Tuesday following a contentious County Council confirmation process and a domestic incident last month.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino also announced his selection for Wong’s replacement, veteran Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey. She takes the post in an interim role until confirmed by the County Council.
At the news conference and in a news release, Victorino did not give a reason for Wong’s resignation, but it likely stemmed from Wong’s arrest and charges of abuse of a household member in an incident in March. Wong was placed on paid administrative leave after the incident.
Last week, the state attorney general’s office, which was handling the case, declined to prosecute Wong after “careful review of all available evidence.”
Victorino said he accepted Wong’s resignation after reviewing the results of the police investigation. The case was referred to the state attorney general’s office to avoid a conflict of interest.
“Nevertheless, I believe it’s in the best interest of the Department of Corporation Counsel and the people of Maui County for Mr. Wong to step down at this time,” Victorino said in a news release.
At the news conference, Victorino said he told Wong that he wished “him nothing but continued success in his life.”
“And I hope he finds solace that I think he’s done in many areas for this county,” the mayor continued. “(He) has done a terrific job to move forward. I wish him and his family continued success and that whatever comes out of this for him and his family, it will be a positive one.”
His replacement, Lutey, has been a deputy corporation counsel for 18 years, overseeing the litigation section for about 12 years. Prior to joining the Corporation Counsel Department, she was a deputy prosecuting attorney for Maui County.
“Ms. Lutey is an excellent attorney with the legal experience to ably lead the Department of Corporation Counsel,” Victorino said in the news release. “Ms. Lutey’s depth of experience and commitment to public service make her exceptionally qualified to lead this important department.”
Victorino had those attending the news conference sing “Happy Birthday” to Lutey, who turned 52 on Tuesday.
Lutey, a Lahainaluna High School graduate, received her law degree in 1994 from the William S. Richardson Law School at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She also has volunteered as a guardian for children.
After the news conference, Lutey said her immediate goals included getting the department “back on track” and “feeling not so unsettled.” She said she looked forward to establishing a relationship with the administration and the County Council.
“That’s my first goal,” she said.
The Corporation Counsel Department advises both the administration and the council.
Another goal is to “get some education out there in some big cases right now that are pending so it’s not so confusing maybe for the public.” Among the biggest cases is one before the U.S. Supreme Court involving injection wells at the Lahaina wastewater treatment plant. Environmental groups have sued the county over water from the wells percolating into the shoreline and damaging the ocean environment.
Lutey’s nomination now heads to the council for confirmation. Ed Kushi Jr., who has been running the office since Wong was placed on administrative leave, remains as first deputy corporation counsel.
Wong was arrested at 12:15 a.m. March 9 at a Wailuku residence and charged with abuse of a household member, a misdemeanor. Wong posted the $1,000 bail that same day and was released.
Previously, Victorino confirmed that the complainant was Wong’s girlfriend and that she was working in the Department of the Corporation Counsel when Victorino came into office. Victorino said he decided to transfer her to the Office of Management to “eliminate or lessen any nepotism that may have been preexisting.”
Wong served under Mayor Alan Arakawa and was appointed by Victorino to continue in his position. A council committee recommended rejecting him in a 5-4 vote, but he was confirmed in the final council vote on Feb. 22 when Council Member Tasha Kama switched sides.
Some council members and public testifiers said Wong had stifled legislation and reacted aggressively toward opponents. Members of his department and family came out in support of his appointment.
After the Tuesday’s news conference, news releases were handed out along with a letter to the mayor from the state Department of the Attorney General, which said “Wong’s conduct did not constitute Abuse of a Family or Household Member.”
“There were no facts that substantiated an effort to cause physical harm to the complainant. Moreover, Wong’s conduct did not amount to a deviation from the standard of conduct that a law-abiding person would observe in the same situation,” said the April 8 letter from Deputy Attorney General Michelle M.L. Puu.
The letter said the decision was discussed with the complainant, and she supports the department’s decision.
The state attorney general’s office said each case is evaluated on the evidence presented and not the identity of the accused or accuser and that prosecutorial review “is a tremendous responsibility that this department does not take lightly.”
Victorino said he was now “confident that due process has been served, and I look forward to finally achieving closure in this matter.”
“My prayer today is that everyone will be able to heal, find peace and move on,” he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.