LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i County Council on a 5-2 vote Wednesday approved a request from the county’s Office of the Prosecuting Attorney to spend county funds to hire a law office assistant position, but not without delays caused by an ongoing legal feud.
County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho said her staff needs extra help to prepare for the upcoming murder trial of Vicente Hilario, who is charged in the slaying of Aureo Moore on Dec. 17, 2010.
But her request encountered resistance from some council members who questioned the need for an extra staff member after victim witness counselor Erin Wilson was laid off Nov. 23 for lack of work — less than four months after being hired.
The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney (OPA) has three victim witness counselors, and two of them are on leave.
In a letter to the council, Iseri-Carvalho cited the counselors’ absences as one of the reasons the law office assistant position was needed.
Councilwoman Joann Yukimura cited Wilson being laid off for “lack of work,” and also said the counselors on leave might return to work.
“As I understand, we are approving a permanent position,” Yukimura said before proposing a delay until she could get more information.
She and Councilman Tim Bynum voted no to the prosecutor’s request.
OPA requested the position as extra help in Hilario’s upcoming trial, but added the assistant’s help will also be needed in other cases, Iseri-Carvalho said.
Furthermore, a law office assistant costs the county almost half as much as a victim witness counselor, and a law office assistant performs more duties, she said.
Iseri-Carvalho said Wilson’s termination was not for “lack of work” in the office, but because Wilson was only working 60 percent of the time that she was in the office.
Wilson’s termination letter dated Nov. 9 and signed by Iseri-Carvalho states, “Due to our recent analysis of the current workload for our Victim Witness Counselors, we find it necessary to reduce our workforce at this time.”
In written testimony submitted to the council, Wilson indicates she would take her job back if given the opportunity.
“Due to my current circumstances, I am available to return to work on a permanent or temporary basis,” she states in her testimony.
“Should the council or OPA decide that the victim witness counselor position be reinstated permanently or temporarily, I would like to return to the work I enjoy.”
Bynum vs. Iseri-Carvalho
The request had already been deferred by the council March 14, when Iseri-Carvalho said she would not entertain questions from Bynum because he is being criminally prosecuted.
Bynum is being charged with four counts of a zoning violation stemming from having a rice cooker, a refrigerator and a sink in an adjacent dwelling unit on his Wailua property.
Bynum, however, requested a Board of Ethics opinion, issued Feb. 10, which states there is no conflict under the Kaua‘i County Charter or the Kaua‘i County Code that requires Bynum to recuse himself from participating and voting on matters pertaining to the prosecutor’s office.
Deputy County Attorney Mona Clark, after the prosecutor cited the county’s Rules of Professional Conduct, said Bynum could question Iseri-Carvalho as long as the criminal case was not brought up.
But Council Chair Jay Furfaro called for a deferral to allow time to consult with county attorneys.
With the item back on the council’s agenda Wednesday, the discussion constantly gravitated toward Bynum’s criminal case despite Furfaro’s attempts to keep the discussion within the agenda.
Several points of order were called, and Bynum argued he was only addressing issues raised by county attorneys and Iseri-Carvalho.
“I didn’t bring up the Rules of Professional Conduct, I didn’t go there,” Bynum said, adding that the prosecuting attorney was the one who brought it up and he was just responding to her.
Bynum said Iseri-Carvalho and county attorneys over the last few months violated the Rules of Professional Conduct four times when they mentioned the criminal case but failed to declare Bynum was presumed innocent until found guilty.
Points of order were followed by repeated calls for a recess.
Furfaro asked Deputy County Attorney Amy Esaki, sitting in the audience, to raise her hand each time she felt that the discussion was straying from the agenda.
About a minute later, Esaki’s hand was up in the air after Bynum brought up the issue again.
For the next hour, Esaki repeatedly raised her hand and walked up to the podium to express an opinion on a potential deviation from the agenda.
Bynum said that during his first term as a council member, he served alongside Iseri-Carvalho, a former council member herself. At that time, Craig De Costa was the county prosecutor, and Iseri-Carvalho asked detailed questions and voted to deny positions requested by De Costa, according to Bynum.
Iseri-Carvalho said the administration told her the position she was requesting is not on Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s proposed operational budget for fiscal year 2013.
That budget was submitted Friday to the council.
But in May, after the first round of budget review sessions, Carvalho will submit a supplemental budget and might include new job positions, including the one requested Wednesday, she said.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.