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Staff: Fear lingering until final decision on Guzman’s removal

Committee recommended prosecuting attorney’s removal Nov. 6

MIKE MOLINA – Says vote is coming

County employees said they’re living in fear as they await “delayed” action by the full council on a resolution to remove Don Guzman as prosecuting attorney after an independent report found he violated the county’s violence in the workplace policy.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” one employee said Tuesday.

There are at least eight employees in the Prosecuting Attorney’s office who are living in fear until the council takes action on the resolution, according to the employee.

Three Department of the Prosecuting Attorney employees spoke with The Maui News on Tuesday under condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation by Guzman.

The council’s Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee on Nov. 6 voted 9-0 to recommend approval of Mayor Michael Victorino’s resolution seeking the removal of Guzman.

The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney for the County of Maui is pictured earlier this month. Staff say that fear is lingering in the department as they wait for a final decision on the removal of Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman. A Maui County Council committee voted unanimously Nov. 6 to recommend his removal. A vote by the full council will be scheduled for Dec. 4. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The resolution must still go to full council for a decision.

Council members said Tuesday that the item will be scheduled for Dec. 4.

Still, action could have been taken at this Friday’s council meeting, department employees said.

They said postponing the action is “retraumatizing” and that closure cannot come until the county cuts ties with Guzman, who they say is still on payroll and has not yet resigned.

“It’s just so upsetting that (the council members) really don’t see how it’s affecting the people that Don abused,” the employee said. “He is not out of the department officially.”

Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee Chairman Mike Molina said Tuesday that the council is handling the item “expeditiously.”

In not yet scheduling the item, Molina said he wanted to give the council “a little bit of time to catch our breaths.”

“This came right after the election and the mayor submitted it on October 23rd. He wanted to have it heard ASAP. So we honored that,” he said.

“If I were to have it on November 20th and then the mayor submits a nominee right after that, then you got the council having to work on it in December. And this way it gives mayor more time and council more time to let the new council decide on whoever the mayor is going to submit” for replacement.

Council Chairwoman Alice Lee said on Tuesday that scheduling items may take time as committee reports are finalized.

“It wasn’t a strategic move or trying to help Mr. Guzman or not consider the feelings of employees, it was more a concern for procedure and timing rather than other factors,” she said.

Molina, who is responsible for signing off on a committee report before the item can be placed on the agenda, said the report was completed Friday or Saturday. He said another reason for the timeline is because he wants to sift through the extensive report for accuracy.

“I need the additional time to go through this thing very thoroughly because it has the potential for being used as a legal document,” Molina said.

When asked if Molina thinks council members will change their votes in the meantime, the committee chairman said he doesn’t think so.

“I would be surprised, based on what I heard in committee, if anybody changes their votes, but you never know,” he said. “Unless there’s something that falls from the sky, evidence that would fall in Don’s favor, I don’t foresee it.”

Molina added that the council is not legally bound to hear the item within a certain timeframe.

Guzman, who held the council’s Kahului residency seat from 2013 to 2018, was appointed by the mayor to head the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney in March 2019 after Guzman’s unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2018.

At the onset of the two-day council committee meeting early this month, county employees testified about Guzman’s “pattern” of abuse, detailing situations of his rage, yelling, swearing, demeaning comments, threats and physical actions, with six incidents this year and other encounters dating back to 2015.

A complaint by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Leslee Matthews triggered a recent independent investigation by a Honolulu-based attorney that determined Guzman had violated the county’s violence in the workplace policy.

During the committee meeting, Guzman responded to claims by saying he is seeking rehabilitation. He detailed a high-stress role exacerbated under COVID-19 pandemic duress, personal health issues and friction with the mayor.

Guzman was placed on administrative leave in mid-September and Victorino submitted the resolution in October for his removal.

One employee said rest is not possible until closure comes with the council’s vote.

“Why is it getting postponed?” the employee said. “I can’t even enjoy my Thanksgiving with just this lingering over my head. It affects my whole family.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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