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Council criticized for firing Lum

The Honolulu attorney representing former Kaua’i Police Commissioner Michael Ching has criticized the Kaua’i County Council for canceling the contract of Kaua’i Police Chief K.C. Lum.

In a letter to Kaua’i County Council Chairman Kaipo Asing, Yuriko J. Sugimura said the council’s actions were based on conclusions made by a hearing officer that were not supported by any evidence and should have been technically enacted through a resolution, rather than by simple vote of the council at its meeting last Wednesday.

Efforts to contact Asing yesterday were not successful.

The issue is partly tied to Ching’s recent resignation from the Kaua’i Police Commission after a Kaua’i Ethics Board investigation determined Ching manipulated the selection process in Lum’s favor, in violation of provisions of the Kaua’i County Charter and the Kaua’i County Code.

In an April 18 letter to Asing, Sugimura said she and other attorneys with the Honolulu law firm of Bendet, Fidell, Sakai and Lee “respectfully” disagreed with the findings of hearing officer, E. John McConnell, a retired judge from Maui.

Sugimura said McConnell reached conclusions that were not supported by the evidence that came out during an ethics board hearing the former judge presided over.

McConnell said recently that he didn’t want to talk about the specifics of the case because he is involved in other legal matters involving Kaua’i County.

McConnell’s findings, Sugimura contended, conflicted with what appeared in the transcript of the hearing.

As for the council’s action, Sugimura said the decision should have been proposed through a resolution.

One decision called for the cancellation of Lum’s contract and the imposition of a $2,000 fine on Ching.

The second approval called on Kaua’i County Finance Director Michael Tresler to immediately cancel Lum’s contract and the County Attorney’s Office to assess $2,000 in fines against Ching and to collect the money from him.

Sugimura also raised these points:

  • Cancellation of Lum’s contract was never raised by county officials or by the Kaua’i County Board of Ethics in Ching’s contested case hearing;
  • The cancellation of Lum’s contract, if it is to occur, falls under the jurisdiction of the Kaua’i Police Commission;
  • The hearing officer found Ching committed no violation of the charter as to the “fairness of the process” in the selection of the chief.

McConnell, for instance, acknowledged the opinion of Kaua’i Police Commissioner Leon Gonsalves, who served 34 years in law enforcement, considered Lum’s involvement as the lead administrative officer in the infamous “lap dancing,” in which officers took liberties with a woman suspect, and considered a strategic plan from another police chief candidate.

  • A decision to impeach Ching is a moot point because he has resigned;
  • The fines imposed against Ching require a criminal conviction, which has not occurred;

Sugimura said the council seemed to have forgotten that Ching served two, three-year terms with distinction.

Through its action last Wednesday, the council “totally ignored the fact that Michael Ching served with honor and integrity,” she said. Sugimura said she and other attorneys from the firm that represented Ching believe the reason for the allegations against Ching and the investigation by the Kaua’i Ethics Board was “motivated by the fact that Mr. Ching remained steadfast in his commitment that he and the commission had acted properly in the selection of the police chief despite the fact that that was not a popular decision with certain politicians and SHOPO (State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers).”

The actions by the Ethics Board and the council’s endorsement of the Ethics Board indicate the (Kaua’i) “Police Commission is not a county agency where the members can exercise their independent discretion in order to carry out its goals and purposes as contemplated by the county’s charter,” Sugimura wrote.

“I suggest that the council consult with its legal advisers and take whatever corrective action is deemed appropriate,” she wrote.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com
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