WAILUKU, Maui — Maui County’s former top prosecutor is suing the county and the mayor for firing him last year after an employee complained he acted violently toward her at work.
Don Guzman, a former County Council member who had been Maui’s prosecuting attorney since April 2019, was terminated after an investigation found he violated the Violence in the Workplace Action Plan last September. Guzman grabbed a copy of an email from Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Leslee Matthews during a meeting, according to the lawsuit filed last week by Guzman.
Guzman, who acknowledges the behavior in the lawsuit, says he suffers from diabetes that can lead to “rage” and “mood swings.”
Guzman now says that complications with his diabetes, medication and the stress of dealing with the pandemic while managing employees led to the incident with Matthews.
According to the lawsuit, the prosecuting attorney was “suffering from diabetic neuropathy and other negative impacts from Type II Diabetes, such as diabetic rage, which is a result of fluctuating glucose levels” as well as “more drastic diabetic-related mood swings.”
In September, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino placed Guzman on administrative leave without pay, then terminated him in October. The Maui County Council approved the decision in December, according to the lawsuit.
But Guzman says he had raised the issue of his health with Victorino, and told the mayor he might need reasonable accommodation, the lawsuit says.
For its part, the council took testimony from employees who shared their negative experiences with Guzman.
The Maui County Council voted unanimously to confirm Victorino’s removal of Guzman as prosecuting attorney. After six years on the council himself, Guzman had run unsuccessfully against Victorino in the 2018 mayoral campaign.
Having worked on the council with Guzman for years, King considered him a friend but still found it “scary and intimidating, and shocking because Don had always been so friendly up til” he “yelled at me the first time,” King wrote in a text to Civil Beat.
Before the committee hearings, King started getting calls from people who had similar experiences with Guzman.
“And they were women in tears,” King told Civil Beat this week. “Women don’t make those kinds of accusations for anything but the truth.”
Guzman’s lawyer, Roman Amaguin, said the investigation into the workplace incident was handled in a way that protected Guzman’s privacy but the council hearing on it was flawed.
“You could have done it in private,” he said, adding that Guzman should have been allowed to refute the testimony.
“We had at least nine witnesses from the community that came forward and basically disparaged Don without his having an ability to address what was said at the hearing,” Amaguin said.
Amaguin says that the county council’s eventual vote to remove Guzman was colored by testimony that was “unfounded and unsupported” and denied the former prosecutor “the due process protections that were in place for the investigation.”
Brian Perry, communications director for Maui County, said he has not yet seen the litigation and couldn’t comment for this story.
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