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Martin gets initial nod from committee

Final decision on his appointment heads to full council

A Maui County Council committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend the approval of Andrew Martin as prosecuting attorney. The final decision now moves to the full County Council. COUNTY OF MAUI photo

Saying they received no opposition to his appointment, a Maui County Council committee voted unanimously to recommend Andrew Martin as prosecuting attorney Tuesday.

With a 9-0 vote, the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee cleared an initial hurdle for the longtime county deputy prosecutor. The final decision now heads to the full council, which will likely consider Martin at its Feb. 19 meeting, said Council Chairwoman Alice Lee.

“This is very rare,” Committee Chairman Mike Molina told Martin Tuesday. “I have not found any opposition to your nomination, whether it be oral or written thus far, so that is something rare because this is a very, very difficult position as you know. I’m quite impressed by that.”

Council members were able to meet with the 44-year-old Martin separately prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

Martin told members during the public meeting that his plans include upgrading case files from paper to electronic, continuing and improving training for prosecutors and completing a children’s justice center to provide services for victims of sexual assault.

“I like the direction we are going in,” Council Member Kelly King said during the vote. “I like the thinking outside the box, being supported by your staff is important and I agree with Chair Molina, that we haven’t had any testimony in opposition, which is rare for this level of position.”

Martin sailed through the majority of questioning by committee members. Current and former colleagues, along with a defense attorney and a victims’ rights advocate, testified in support of Martin, who was a county deputy prosecuting attorney from September 2005 to March 2010 and again from February 2015 until now.

He’s also served as a circuit court supervisor, directly overseeing 16 trial attorneys for all felony and misdemeanor jury trial cases.

Mayor Michael Victorino announced the appointment of Martin last week, a little over a month after the council approved Victorino’s request to remove former Prosecuting Attorney Don Guzman.

Deputy Prosecutor Leslee Matthews had filed a violence in the workplace complaint against Guzman that led to an independent investigation last fall. The report concluded Guzman had violated county workplace violence rules.

During council hearings, several department employees, along with Martin, testified on volatile run-ins with Guzman.

On Tuesday, Matthews and others who spoke out about the issues under Guzman advocated for Martin.

Matthews said she was confident that the division within the department could be fixed by the new leadership.

“When given the opportunity to do the right thing, Mr. Martin did the right thing, and I’m confident in his leadership to rebuild, reconcile and help us recover,” Matthews said. “There will always be divisions and things such as that, but this I think is a moment for us to all work together in our department with the legislative branch, the executive branch and our community partners to advance justice for all people.”

Susan Clements, who is the administrative officer for the Department of Prosecuting Attorney but testified as a private citizen, said she has been meeting with Martin while the department awaits a successor, and that his leadership has brought continuity to the department.

She praised his knowledge, good character and decision-making.

“Andrew listens to staff concerns, seeks input from others, addresses issues with sound judgment, and is an effective communicator,” Clements said. “What stands out the most to me is that he treats everyone with respect and will not hesitate to do the right thing.”

Council members pushed Martin on some issues, including his relationship with acting Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera, who served as first deputy under Guzman and former Prosecuting Attorney J.D. Kim.

Council Vice-Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said there is a “public perception” that Martin and Rivera are close and that some wonder if the friendship will prevent necessary change from occurring in the department.

Martin acknowledged that he has known Rivera since 2005 and that the two also worked nine months together in private practice.

“But that doesn’t create any issues where I’m not going to be able to establish the type of tone here in the office that I think I need to,” Martin said. “I don’t see any challenges or difficulties there.”

Martin said that Rivera, who will hold the third-highest position in the department, is qualified and can supervise other prosecutors and mentor them with his lengthy experience.

When asked about past concerns in the department regarding favoritism in promotions, Martin said, “It won’t happen.”

“It’s going to be based on ability and qualifications, nothing else,” he said.

As for how morale had changed in the interim. Martin said it had improved, making a 180-degree turn for the better.

He added that all employees have read and signed the violence in the workplace master plan.

King also queried Martin on whether the mayor had asked him to sign an undated resignation letter, which Guzman had claimed Victorino had told him to do after Guzman’s confirmation by the council. Martin said that he had not been asked.

If confirmed by the full council, Martin would lead around 80 employees and would earn $149,507 annually.

His first deputy prosecutor would be Michael Kagami, whose appointment was announced Monday. Deputy directors of departments do not need council confirmation.

Martin said he personally chose Kagami and noted Kagami’s 30-year legal experience in Hawaii, including 20 years in Hawaii County where he was a supervisory prosecutor for 15 of those years, according to a Maui County news release.

Kagami also worked with the state Department of the Attorney General.

Martin called Kagami “even-keeled” and a “consummate professional” who also has understanding of the department’s employees and their concerns.

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

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