HONOLULU — A former speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives will resign by next week to resolve sexual harassment allegations brought by several women, the latest case of an elected official being forced from office over misconduct in recent months.
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission on Wednesday announced the settlement in its investigation of state Rep. Joseph Souki of Maui. The investigation included allegations Souki, 84, sexually harassed multiple women by subjecting them to unwanted kissing, touching and sexual language.
Sexual misconduct allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein in October have led women around the country to come forward with claims against powerful men in politics, entertainment and media. Several state legislators have been forced to resign or have been expelled over misconduct allegations.
The settlement calls for Souki to resign by March 30, issue a public apology, pay a $5,000 penalty and not seek office for two years.
According to the settlement, Souki admitted he “touched and kissed more than one woman in ways that were inappropriate and unwelcome. He admits that this physical contact exceeded the boundaries of the customary ‘aloha kiss.’”
He also admitted making “sexual comments, including comments on the physical appearance of more than one woman, that were inappropriate and unwanted.”
Souki’s office referred calls to his lawyer, and a message left for attorney Michael Green before business hours wasn’t immediately returned.
The commission found Souki likely violated the state’s Fair Treatment Law, which says a lawmaker cannot use his or her position to obtain unwarranted benefits or to subject another person to unwarranted treatment, either favorable or unfavorable.
The investigation began when Rachael Wong, the former head of Hawaii’s Department of Human Services, filed a sexual harassment complaint against Souki. The commission says similar allegations from other women followed. A message left for Wong wasn’t immediately returned Wednesday.
Souki was first elected in 1982 and has served continuously since then. He has been House speaker on two different occasions, from 1993-99 and from 2013-17.
The report from the commission says when Souki was speaker, women were reticent to confront him or file a complaint regarding his conduct. It noted Wong was responsible for a budget of $3.3 billion.
“Challenging then-Speaker Souki’s conduct could have jeopardized her agency’s budget and legislation thereby impairing her advocacy efforts on behalf of Hawaii’s children and families,” the report said. “She, like others, felt she had no choice but to remain silent in the face of Respondent Souki’s behavior.”
Souki’s official biography on the Legislature’s website says he was born and raised on Maui. He’s married with two children.