Prosecuting attorney removed from office
Don Guzman to challenge decision
The Maui County Council voted unanimously on Friday to remove Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman over violence in the workplace claims, affirming a council committee decision about a month ago.
Recognizing Guzman’s work while leading his department, the council also said on Friday it could not overlook his behavior and voted 9-0 to approve a resolution submitted by Mayor Michael Victorino in October seeking Guzman’s removal.
“The committee acknowledged the accomplishments of the prosecuting attorney while head of the department but could not overlook a pattern of behavior involving angry outbursts and verbal threats in violation of the county’s violence in the workplace action plan,” Council Member Mike Molina said Friday before the vote.
Guzman, who has been on administrative leave since mid-September, said on Friday that he will contest the decision.
“I have hired a very good employment law attorney, Mr. Roman Amaguin, and I will be pursuing justice by way of legal actions against the county for what I believe was unfair treatment, violations under the Constitution and Federal Acts, as well as tort claims against those individuals that committed slander and defamation,” Guzman said in an email to The Maui News.
Guzman held the council’s Kahului residency seat from 2013 to 2018 and was appointed by Victorino to head the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney in March 2019 after an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2018. He has practiced as a civil and family estate attorney.
In a seven-and-a-half page response to the decision Friday, Guzman said he and his family have made many sacrifices for the community and that he’s saddened about the decision from the mayor and the council.
“Now, I find myself the victim of a failed process,” he wrote. “A failed process initiated by a mayor whose direct actions regarding the pandemic led to the stress and anxiety that resulted in my disagreement with Ms. Matthews. A failed process facilitated by the very council members I once proudly called my colleagues and who share responsibility for the fair and equal treatment of all county employees. This has been a truly disheartening experience, but I am obligated to the people of Maui County to resolve this matter so that no other county employee is subject to a similar failed process.”
Guzman maintains that he was denied due process during the investigation and the proceedings that followed.
He discussed disagreements with the mayor, job stressors and personal health matters, and refuted each county employee who testified against him during last month’s hearing.
On Nov. 5, the council’s Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee heard testimony on Guzman’s proposed removal from five Department of the Prosecuting Attorney employees who recounted Guzman’s “pattern” of abuse, detailing situations of his rage, yelling, swearing, demeaning comments, threats and physical actions. Testifiers said six incidents occurred this year; another encounter dated back to 2015.
Scores of others wrote and spoke in his support, with some saying he suffered from “diabetic rage.”
One of the department employees, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Leslee Matthews, filed a recent complaint over a COVID-19-related safety plan email exchange and angry confrontation with Guzman. The administration responded by hiring a Honolulu-based attorney who conducted an independent investigation.
The investigation report said Guzman had “engaged in threats of intimidation to inflict mental harm or injury,” a violation of the county’s violence in the workplace action plan.
In addressing the Matthews complaint Friday, Guzman said he could have done some things differently, but he stood by other decisions.
“I could have handled the situation differently, in a more calm manner, but in my view her insubordination required a strong statement at that time,” Guzman wrote.
He added that he has since taken sensitivity training sessions and has addressed personal medical issues.
The Maui News also obtained a memo on another workplace violence complaint against Guzman from 2015.
The complaint was filed by Department of Prosecuting Attorney employee Jo Gascon to then-Council Chairman Mike White. It said then-Council Vice Chairman Guzman became “irate,” slamming his hands on a desk and issuing threats, in a meeting with Gascon and others in Guzman’s office, leaving another woman in tears.
Guzman on Friday said Gascon’s testimony about the 2015 incident “is curious because according to the official attendance records and staff personnel, she was not at that meeting back in 2015.”
Guzman recently filed his own violence in the workplace complaint against Council Chairwoman Alice Lee.
In the complaint Nov. 19, he said Lee’s comments and questions during the Nov. 5 committee hearing rose to the “level of Violence in the Workplace inflicting emotional and psychological harm.” Lee has previously declined to comment on the complaint.
Guzman said Friday he has no comment on the matter, “except that I believe that Chair Lee was overtly abusive in her conduct towards me during the November 5th, GET committee meetings.”
During the committee and the council proceedings, current Council Member Kelly King and former Council Member Elle Cochran detailed their own aggressive run-ins with Guzman.
Cochran testified Friday that she filed a county workplace violence complaint and a Maui Police Department report over an outburst by Guzman in 2017 that left her and her staffer shaking and in tears.
After the vote Friday, Matthews thanked Victorino and council members “for standing with us and those who could not publicly speak out against violence in the workplace.”
“Today, the council’s vote reaffirms that there is no place for violence in the workplace,” she said. “This moves us closer to ending violence against women and creating safe places to work, live and go to school. To those who are hurting, you are loved, you are cared for and you are here for a purpose.”
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.