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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

State officials' fight investigated

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

State Labor Department director Nelson Befitel had what is described as a "physical altercation" with subordinate James Decker in Befitel's office Wednesday, and the incident is now under investigation by state officials.

Decker, manager of the administrative and technical support branch of the Labor Department, said he could not discuss the matter in detail because he is contacting a lawyer to pursue possible legal claims against Befitel, 37, a family friend of Gov. Linda Lingle.

Befitel was unavailable for comment, but department spokesman James Hardaway said, "Mr. Decker is free to pursue whatever he wants to pursue. We have no comment on the matter because it's a personnel issue."

Two department employees, who asked not to be named because the incident is under investigation, said that Decker emerged from Befitel's office with a torn shirt and scratched torso following a "heated argument" between the two men. Decker said those accounts were accurate. He said he filed a police report following the incident.

Lingle spokesman Russell Pang cited personnel confidentiality in declining to comment on the matter.

The police report is not available for public dissemination until the case is closed, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said.

A former deputy corporation counsel for Maui County, Befitel has spent the last few years as a litigation attorney with the law firm Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert practicing mainly in labor and employment law. He served as attorney for the Lingle political campaign.