County spent $1.9 million on outside counsel

With only 21 percent of lawsuits filed against Kaua‘i in 2006 settled so far, the county has already spent nearly $1.9 million in outside counsel and legal fees — not including settlements.

Of the 48 cases in which Kaua‘i County defended itself in court for that year, so far it has spent $1,896,306 — $310,839 of which was spent on the 10 cases that have since closed, yielding $873,350 in plaintiff settlements. The remainder went toward counsel for cases that have yet to settle.

The figures were listed in a summary released from that office this week in response to a January 2007 Freedom of Information Act request submitted by The Garden Island.

Taking the cake for outside legal fees overall for 2006 was the suit filed by former Police Chief K.C. Lum, at $590,813

The case has cost more than four times the amount the county has spent so far on outside counsel defending against plaintiffs in a lawsuit related to the KaLoko Reservoir Dam breach. According to the KaLoko Report, authored by Special Deputy Attorney General Robert Godbey, Kaua‘i County officials might have missed an opportunity to stop unlawful work at the dam in 1997. The independent report emphasized throughout that it does not draw conclusions regarding legal blame, civil liability or criminal guilt.

To date, the county has spent $137,806 in legal costs for that case, though it isn’t expected to be closed any time soon. Most of the 2008 court calendar is blocked off for other KaLoko-related litigation.

Other cases stemming from Lum’s appointment as chief are responsible for nabbing most of the county’s outside legal fees for 2006, as an additional $106,599 was spent on an investigation into former Police Commissioner Michael Ching, Police Commissioner Carol Furtado and former Deputy Police Chief Ron Venneman.

Ching had resigned from the commission after a board of ethics investigation found he helped Lum become the acting chief in 2004. The findings concluded Ching’s actions gave Lum an inappropriate advantage in obtaining the permanent chief position.

In addition to the investigation costs, the county spent $89,994 in outside legal costs against Ching in defending the County Council, as well as between the Office of Information Practices stemming from e-mail correspondence related to the process, the report states.

Another top-dollar lawsuit naming the county as a defendant was filed by Kaua‘i Police Officer Darla Abbatiello, who is poised to receive a $980,000 settlement. The county spent $340,647 in outside legal fees defending that case, in which Abbatiello claims she was wrongfully harassed and demoted while working at the KPD. It could easily have been considered the county’s No. 1 settlement amount for 2006; however, the case is headed back to federal court Friday for a status conference.

Officials with the County Attorney’s Office could not comment on how much of the Abbatiello settlement might be covered by insurance rather than being drawn directly from county coffers.

In addition, the county spent $62,691 in outside counsel for a case involving Oma‘o residents Sharon and William McCulley. The couple received the highest lump sum settlement — $325,000 — intended to help mend what the couple endured from the physically traumatic, wrongful search and seizure of their home.

The couple had been baby-sitting their grandchildren when police mistook their home for that of a drug dealer’s residence.

Top sums spent by county

Top three sums spent by Kaua‘i County on outside counsel for lawsuits filed in 2006

Settled cases:

Ragasa, Carl et. al v. County of Kaua‘i — $150,000

Arinaga, Clayton v. County of Kaua‘i — $69,458

McCulley, William & Sharon v. County of Kaua‘i — $62,691

Pending cases:

King C. Lum v. County of Kaua‘i — $590,813

Darla Abbatiello v. County of Kaua‘i — $340,647

John Keikiala, Aana, et al. v. County of Kaua‘i and Henry Alfred Barriga, v. County of Kaua‘i — $160,895


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