A late complaint of witness tampering caused a rare stir during confirmation hearings for a new district court judge on Kauai.

Defense attorney Gregory Meyers found himself defending his character and ethics from accusations that he broke the law and violated legal rules when he obtained a statement from a complaining witness in a case that seemed to aid his client in getting charges dropped.

Meyers is the nominee for a judgeship on Kauai to replace retired Judge Edmund Acoba.

Other defense attorneys in the state came to the aid of Meyers and supported his nomination during an hour-long hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The attorneys rebutted claims that what Meyers did was unethical or illegal.

The committee put off a vote on Meyers’ nomination and two others until Monday. Senate Judiciary Chairman Karl Rhoads said his fellow lawmakers are in a tough spot.

Attorney Gergory Meyers answered questions from state senators Thursday regarding a complaint lodged against him by a Kauai deputy prosecutor. Screenshot/2022

“On the one hand, you never want to have to vote on someone where you know a complaint has been filed. But on the other hand, you don’t want to send a message that you can kill a judicial nomination by filing a complaint,” he said in an interview.

Kauai Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Christensen lodged a complaint against Meyers with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel on Monday. The ODC investigates complaints against lawyers. The Kauai Police Department is also investigating the incident, according to Christensen’s written testimony.

Meyers told the committee that the complaint stems from an incident in December, which other attorneys present at the hearing said was a misdemeanor assault case. Meyers’ client was arrested but charges weren’t filed.

Shortly after the arrest, the client said he had the complaining witness on the phone. Meyers took notes on the phone call but did not recall saying much to the witness. Later, his client brought a handwritten statement from the witness, apparently contradicting an earlier statement that led to the client’s arrest. The Kauai prosecutor apparently thinks that was tampering with a witness, but didn’t return a call to clarify.

Meyers said he was “ethically obligated” to turn that statement in to the prosecutor’s office.

Meyers said he was only made aware of the complaint earlier this week during a meeting with the Hawaii State Bar Association Board of Directors. The board found Meyers to be a qualified candidate for the judge position on Kauai.

Christensen, who graduated from law school last year and was admitted to practice in Hawaii in October, wasn’t present during the commission hearing. He was the only person to testify in opposition to Meyers’ nomination.

Defense attorneys present at the hearing, some of whom have argued against Meyers in court, testified in support of his nomination.

Michelle Premeaux, an attorney on Kauai who worked at the same firm as Meyers, said his ethics are “unimpeachable.” She said the ODC complaint appears to be an effort to scuttle his chances of becoming a judge.

“Defendants have a right to due process. As part of that due process right, attorneys need to interview complaining witnesses and prosecutors’ witnesses,” Premeaux told the committee, adding that the complaint could have a “chilling effect” on defense lawyers in the state.

Attorney Michelle Premeaux said the complaint against Meyers appears to be an attempt to scuttle his nomination. Screenshot/2022

“We’ll always need to be looking behind our back when we zealously advocate for our clients,” she said.

Most of the testifiers said that Meyers followed proper procedure for attorneys. Craig De Costa, a former Kauai prosecutor, said he could recall many cases that ended after a defense attorney brought forth statements from witnesses. He said it’s part of an attorney’s ethical duty to turn those over to prosecutors.

Meyers said he believes he acted appropriately.

“I memorialized my notes and sent an email to my client,” Meyers said of the incident.

“But talking to a complaining witness, is that unethical?” Rhoads asked.

“I’ve never known it to be unethical,” Meyers said. “It would be a little bit strange if one side is allowed to talk to witnesses. It would be malpractice for me not to talk to a witness who is volunteering that they want to withdraw their police report.”

While not commenting directly on Meyers’ case, Rod Maile, the courts administrator, told the Senate committee that a judge can still be disciplined for actions they took as an attorney. There’s varying consequences for attorneys who violate Hawaii’s rules for lawyers. Witness tampering is a misdemeanor under state law.

The ODC formally received Christensen’s complaint on Wednesday. The office’s investigations typically take about three months.

The judiciary committee, which vets judicial nominees, will take a preliminary vote on Meyers’ nomination on Monday. Rhoads, the committee chairman, said he doesn’t know yet how the other senators would vote. Although, he said, he’s leaning toward recommending that the committee approve Meyers’ nomination.

No matter what happens in the committee vote, the full 25-member Senate will have a final say on whether Meyers becomes a judge during a full floor vote expected Tuesday.

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