LIHU‘E — The disagreements between the County Attorney’s Office and the former leadership at the Office of Prosecuting Attorney have re-ignited. Former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho testified at a Kaua‘i County Council meeting Wednesday, accusing County Attorney Al Castillo of trading a lawsuit settlement for a job for his wife under the new OPA leadership.
Castillo denied the trade-off and said he would not dignify Iseri-Carvalho’s accusation, which also included a claim that he blocked investigation in the case to favor the settlement. But he ultimately recused himself from the executive session on the matter, and sent his First Deputy Attorney Marc Guyot in his place.
The council was scheduled to go behind closed doors on the matters regarding a settlement in the lawsuit filed by Second Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Vogt against the county and the OPA. A county source, who asked to remain anonymous, said attorneys from both sides had agreed on $25,000 as the amount for a global settlement — there was also a complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
But Iseri-Carvalho, a defendant in the lawsuit in her former capacity, showed up at the council chambers with former First Deputy Prosecutor Jake Delaplane in tow.
“This lawsuit is totally baseless, frivolous and without merit,” Iseri-Carvalho said. “It is my opinion that the county attorney, (Prosecutor) Justin Kollar and Becky Vogt concocted this scheme to sway the election in favor of Kollar with the promise that she would be rewarded not only with a gigantic pay increase she was desperately craving, but also a supervisory position with the two-year minimal experience she possessed, even though several attorneys in the office that were retained by Kollar had 20 years of experience over her.”
Vogt filed the lawsuit Sept. 18, in which she claimed discrimination after being passed on a raise while other attorneys who had been hired well after her received a pay increase. Upon filing the lawsuit, Vogt did not return to work.
Then, in the Nov. 6 election, Kollar beat Iseri-Carvalho by a wide margin. When Kollar took office in December, he announced Vogt as his second deputy prosecutor. Under Iseri-Carvalho, Vogt was getting paid $80,000 per year. Castillo said Vogt’s new position earns her about $90,000 annually.
Iseri-Carvalho said the irony is that Vogt complained she was discriminated against because others who were less qualified than her received a higher pay than she did.
“Yet here, where she is the beneficiary of receiving a huge salary in addition to being promoted from a rookie attorney to a supervisor over those veterans, she takes the opportunity in stride,” she said. “Appears to be hypocritical at best.”
Iseri-Carvalho rushed through two pages of written testimony, in which she accuses Castillo of blowing deadlines and being part of a “master plan” in conjunction with Kollar and Vogt to manipulate the county to settle the claim without the benefit of any investigation. She said Castillo is well aware that the OPA has numerous witnesses who would testify that Vogt’s claims are false.
Then, toward the end of her testimony, Iseri-Carvalho re-ignited her accusations against Castillo by saying “it is even more nauseating” that Castillo engaged in “covert negotiations” to block investigation while knowing that his wife, Genalyn Castillo, was hired by Kollar as a receptionist at the OPA — and is an employee under Vogt’s supervision.
“You scratch my back, I scratch yours. You give my wife a job and take care of her, I will make sure you get a settlement,” Iseri-Carvalho mockingly said of Castillo.
Castillo, however, denied that Vogt is his wife’s direct supervisor. He said his wife was hired about two weeks ago as a receptionist at the OPA and works under the supervision of Art Williams, who is an office manager.
Iseri-Carvalho said Castillo, immediately before the general election, “went on a rampage to settle lawsuits against the OPA with little or no investigation and no consultation with the staff or attorneys of the OPA.”
“This reckless behavior is anti-ethical to the role of an attorney, who is required to represent the client’s best interest and not his own,” she said.
Councilman Tim Bynum, however, exempted Castillo, saying it is the council rather than the county attorney who has authority to approve settlements.
Iseri-Carvalho also criticized Castillo for failing to answer Vogt’s complaint within a 20-day deadline, and for seeking funds for special counsel for the OPA without notifying them.
Then on Dec. 11, almost two months after the deadline to respond to the complaint had expired, private attorney Robert Katz, the appointed special counsel for the OPA, was granted an extension until Dec. 28, according to Iseri-Carvalho.
Katz filed the answer on Dec. 21. As the depositions were being set for a trial, Castillo called Katz and advised him to hold off on further action because Vogt’s attorney had called him to discuss a settlement, Iseri-Carvalho said.
“This action is highly suspicious because Vogt’s attorney knew that Katz, not the county attorney, is the attorney of record,” she said. “Why didn’t Vogt’s attorney call Katz? Why didn’t the county attorney, knowing that Katz is the special counsel, refer Vogt’s attorney to Katz?”
Iseri-Carvalho called it a “get-rich scheme based on greed and abuse of power,” and said no amount of money should be settled.
As discussion was happening on the floor at the council chambers, Katz was apparently waiting to have a phone conference with the council behind closed doors.
“Mr. Katz is waiting by the phone since 4:15 (p.m.), and the taxi meter is running,” Council Chair Jay Furfaro said, referring to Katz’s hourly rate.
At about 5 p.m., the council finally went into executive session, which included two additional items and lasted about two hours.
Following the end of the executive sessions, the council took about half an hour to finish the agenda for the day, and made no mention of the discussion.
After the meeting was adjourned, Furfaro said he couldn’t make comments on what happened behind closed doors because negotiations are ongoing.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.