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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, April 9, 2005

Legislator's aide was child-abuse convict

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The office manager for state Rep. Rida Cabanilla resigned yesterday, explaining that he failed to tell Cabanilla he was convicted of a sex crime in the Philippines and wanted to spare her any embarrassment after the story spread through the state Capitol.

Leon Rouse, who had been on paid administrative leave the past few days, was the subject of news reports after a state senator and several colleagues tried to help him when he was fired from a Norwegian Cruise Line job last year over sexual harassment allegations. At the same time, people at the state Legislature were also talking about Rouse's past.

Rouse was convicted of child abuse in the Philippines in 1998 for having sex with a teenage boy and spent several years in prison. Rouse denies he had sex with the boy and maintains he was set up in an extortion plot. He has exhausted his legal appeals in the Philippines but has asked the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to review the case, claiming his rights were violated.

"It was a total nightmare," Rouse said last night in an interview with The Advertiser.

Says he's innocent

Rouse said he did not tell Cabanilla, D-42nd (Waipahu, Honouliuli, 'Ewa), about the conviction for fear he would not be hired and said she was upset when she first heard. "The lady is a sweetheart," he said. "I didn't want to be on her back. I didn't want to taint these people who had nothing to do with it."

Rouse had previously declined to discuss the conviction in connection with the help he received from lawmakers concerning Norwegian because it was not directly related and because he was still working for Cabanilla. But he said he was eager to speak publicly about the conviction now because he wanted people to know he was innocent.

"It's like, 'Hello,' this is the real world. This is what's out there," Rouse said.

While in prison, Rouse appealed for help from lawmakers and leaders in Wisconsin, where he had lived and was known as a political activist, and in Hawai'i, where he had moved and campaigned for gay rights.

After he was released from prison and returned to Hawai'i, Rouse said he asked for assistance from state lawmakers. State Sen. Rosalyn Baker, D-5th (W. Maui, S. Maui), for example, gave him a recommendation for his job as a cabin steward at Norwegian.

Rouse was fired from Norwegian last June after what he said were anonymous allegations of sexual harassment. He said he was asked to leave the Pride of Aloha in California and had to make his own way back to the Islands.

Rouse said he then approached state Sen. Brian Kanno, D-19th (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waikele), the chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, and other lawmakers for help.

Kanno met personally with Norwegian to ask that Rouse be rehired. When the cruise line refused, he and seven other committee chairmen and chairwomen signed a letter to Norwegian last August asking the cruise line to pay Rouse travel expenses and restitution. The cruise line again refused.

Kanno also worked with Cabanilla and state Sen. Carol Fukunaga, D-11th (Makiki, Pawa'a), on resolutions this session that would have required Norwegian to explain its sexual harassment policies and ordered the state Department of Taxation to determine whether the cruise line should pay the state's hotel room tax. The resolutions did not advance, but Norwegian officials complained to Senate leaders that the resolutions were punitive.

Kanno also recommended Rouse for his job with Cabanilla.

Kanno releases letter

Rouse said yesterday that he believes the information about his past was leaked to news media and lawmakers to embarrass the lawmakers who tried to help him with Norwegian. "There is no doubt in my mind," he said.

Kanno, who had initially declined to release the Norwegian letter despite a ruling by the state Office of Information Practices that it is a public record, released it yesterday.

The Aug. 24 letter acknowledged that workers should be free from sexual harassment but said there are times when allegations can be made because of jealousy, revenge or misunderstanding. The lawmakers said any workers accused of sexual harassment should be given a chance to defend themselves.

The letter claimed that Rouse was unfairly fired and asked for travel expenses and pay "from the time of his termination up to the time this problem is resolved."

It was signed by Kanno, Fukunaga, Baker, Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Rep. Ken Hiraki, Rep. Roy Takumi and then-Rep. Eric Hamakawa.

Some of the lawmakers who signed the letter said yesterday that they had known about Rouse's conviction in the Philippines, while others said they were as surprised as Cabanilla. "This individual needed help," said Fukunaga, who was aware of the conviction. "Many of us have signed many letters for many people."

Rouse, in an interview in his Waikiki home, showed pictures of himself in his prison cell in the Philippines.

He said, for now at least, he would probably stay away from politics, joking that he might have to sweep floors for work.

"I certainly found out who my friends are over the past few days," he said.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.