Former Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya has filed a lawsuit against the city after his requests for documents pertaining to severance agreements with a number of former city officials was turned down.

Amemiya and two other former top city officials were arrested by the FBI earlier this month for allegedly conspiring to steer a $250,000 payout to former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, against city law.

Amemiya, who turned himself in to the FBI on Jan. 12, filed the lawsuit on Thursday saying that the city is violating the Hawaii Uniform Information Practices Act by withholding documents he requested last June after learning that he was being investigated in connection with the 2017 payment to Kealoha.

According to the lawsuit, a public records request was sent to the Honolulu Police Commission and the city’s Department of Corporation Counsel asking for all documents related to “the appropriate procedures for negotiation, approval and consummation of any severance or separation agreement between the City and/or COR and its former Chief of Police, Louis Kealoha.”

photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Former managing director Roy Amemiya is suing the city to obtain a variety of documents related to the Kealoha payout and other severance payouts dating back to 2016. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Amemiya also requested documents related to severance or separation agreements between the city, the Honolulu Ethics Commission and its former executive director, Charles Totto, who stepped down in June 2016 and received an $18,000 severance payout.

Another request sought all documents related to severance or separation agreements between the city, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit and former HART Director Daniel Grabauskas who also resigned in 2016 and was given a $282,250 severance payment.

Amemiya also requested all documents shared between the Honolulu Police Department, FBI and the Department of Justice, as well as all communication by the city’s Budget and Financial Services department and the Department of Human Resources, regarding the payout to Kealoha.

According to the lawsuit, the police commission responded in late August and sent over one document — Louis Kealoha’s retirement letter dated Jan. 18, 2017.

After Amemiya’s attorney, Lyle Hosoda, stepped in, the police commission released 16 more documents, including copies of commission meeting minutes and agendas, public comments made at commission meetings, executive session minutes, and Louis Kealoha’s target letter from the FBI.

Honolulu Corporation Counsel denied Amemiya’s request regarding the other agencies, citing attorney-client privilege, work product privilege and the ongoing investigation.

“The public interest in enhancing governmental accountability, the fact that the fraud investigation is closed, and the ability of the City to redact personal information all tip the balances to allowing the City to disclose at least a portion of the government records that HPC and Corp. Counsel possess,” the lawsuit says.

Amemiya is facing one charge of conspiracy as is former Corporation Counsel Donna Leong and former Honolulu Police Commission chair Max Sword for allegedly conspiring to circumvent a City Council review of the payment.

All three were arraigned shortly after turning themselves in to the FBI on Jan. 12 and were released on $50,000 unsecured bond.

Trial has been set for March 14.

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