The Kaua‘i County Council yesterday afternoon confirmed retiring Big Island Circuit Judge Matthew Pyun Sr. — an appointee of Mayor Bryan Baptiste — as the next county attorney.
While being interviewed by the council for the job at the historic County Building earlier in the day, Pyun, who has homes on the Big Island and O‘ahu, said he is committed to moving to Kaua‘i for the job and would attend Kaua‘i County Council meetings to render legal opinions when requested.
Pyun’s forced retirement as a judge makes him eligible to fill the post vacated in December by Lani Nakazawa, who took an administrative job with Baptiste’s administration.
Deputy county attorney Christiane Nakea-Tresler served in place of Nakazawa while a search for a permanent replacement took place.
Pyun served as a judge for nearly four years, but is being forced to retire at 70, as required by the state’s constitution. His birthday is next week.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said he never liked it when a deputy county attorney, who lived on another island, left council meetings to catch a flight home.
“I don’t think that is appropriate,” Rapozo said.
The early departure kept the council, sometimes discussing matters in an executive session, from making timely decisions.
Pyun said that situation won’t happen as he will likely attend meetings to give legal opinions on the spot.
“The availability of the lawyer to the client is the highest authority,” Pyun said. “It is the attorney’s job to be available” to take care of matters for a government agency or a business, he said.
Earlier, councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, a retired county prosecutor, said any county attorney should be at the beck and call of the council.
To comments from councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura that the county attorney’s job is controversial, Pyun said he realized the job has challenges but that he is ready for them.
“I am not coming in with the thought in mind that some people and everybody will say good things about me,” Pyun said. He added that whatever he does will probably draw support from some and criticism from others.
County attorneys in the past have had to defend the county against numerous lawsuits stemming from complaints against the police and, in some cases, police officers filing complaints against other officers over alleged abuses.
The same office also has had to ask the council to spend what critics say has been exorbitant amounts of funds to defend the county in the lawsuit brought by ‘Ohana Kaua‘i, which had passed by voters a tax-reform charter amendment.
Outside attorneys also have been sought because they have expertise over certain matters the deputy county attorneys don’t have.
Pyun also said someone asked him if he would be interested in moving to Kaua‘i.
But he said he didn’t seriously consider the position until Baptiste called him.
He said he thought, “‘if the mayor calls me personally … I certainly will consider it very heavily.’”
Yukimura said Pyun will take a cut in pay by taking the job and appreciated a man with his credentials and accomplishments considering the offer.
If he took the job, Pyun said he would favor having his deputy county attorneys paid the highest salary possible so they won’t be wooed away by higher-paying jobs in the private sector.
In recent weeks, Iseri-Carvalho expressed surprise a deputy county attorney rendered a legal opinion without having a superior sign off on it.
That won’t happen with him as the county attorney, Pyun said, because he will have reviewed the document before signing off on it.
Councilman Ron Kouchi said he has known Pyun for 20 years and has the highest respect for him. “He is his own man, and whatever opinion will be his,” Kouchi said.
Pyun has worked as a deputy corporate counsel for the City and County of Honolulu and law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Martin Pence.
Pyun also worked for the Legal Aid Society and worked in private practice for 4 years before his confirmation as a state judge in 2003.