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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 22, 2006

Lawmakers lobbied for worker

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Brian Kanno

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Four state lawmakers wrote letters to a Norwegian Cruise Line executive in July 2004 supporting state Sen. Brian Kanno's efforts to help a cabin steward fired by the cruise line for sexual harassment.

The letters, released yesterday by the Hawai'i State Ethics Commission, have been cited by Kanno as evidence that he was acting as a mediator with the support of his colleagues when he met with Norwegian about rehiring Leon Rouse, the cabin steward, and later asked that Rouse receive back pay and expenses.

The commission has charged Kanno, D-19th (Kapolei, Maka-kilo, Waikele), with violating state ethics law by trying to coerce Norwegian into paying Rouse's expenses after he was fired in California in June 2004 and had to return to Hawai'i on his own. Kanno's attorney has countered that Kanno, the chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, was acting within his legislative functions. A hearing is scheduled for June.

The documents released yesterday involve Kanno's unsuccessful motion last November to get the commission to dismiss the charge. The motion provides the first detailed explanation from Kanno about why he got involved in helping Rouse, a former political activist who had spent time in prison in the Philippines for a sex crime before he was hired by Norwegian. It also shows that other lawmakers, who knew Rouse before as an activist and were aware of his conviction, did more than what has been publicly known to help Rouse with Norwegian.

State Sen. Rosalyn Baker, D-5th, (W. Maui, S. Maui); state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, D-13th (Kalihi, Nu'uanu); state Sen. Carol Fukunaga, D-11th (Makiki, Pawa'a); and former state Rep. Kenneth Hiraki wrote similar letters in July 2004 to Robert Kritzman, Norwegian's executive vice president, backing Kanno's role in resolving Rouse's claims. Baker had given Rouse a recommendation for the cabin steward job.

Kanno and Rouse met with Kritzman and another Norwegian executive at the state Capitol in late July 2004 in what Kanno described to the commission as a "voluntary process to mediate an alleged unfair employment practice."

After Kritzman refused to rehire Rouse, Kanno joined seven other lawmakers including the four who had written before in an August 2004 letter to Norwegian asking for back pay, travel costs and expenses for Rouse.

The commission has called Kanno's claim that he was a mediator a mischaracterization because Norwegian never asked Kanno to mediate what it believed was the proper firing of Rouse within his 90-day probationary period. Kritzman, according to the commission, told Kanno in a later telephone conversation that after looking into Rouse's firing he felt more strongly about the decision because there were multiple accusations against Rouse.

Kritzman said in an interview yesterday that he never agreed to any mediation and was surprised Rouse was in Kanno's Senate office when he showed up for their meeting. "We did not know that he would be there," he said.

Lawmakers routinely write letters for constituents with problems and meet with private executives about legislation or public policy. But several people who have followed the Norwegian case believe Rouse received an unusual degree of political support.

The Advertiser reported last May that Rouse and his family were able to get several prominent state and national politicians to write diplomatic officials on his behalf when he was in prison in the Philippines. A United Nations committee ruled last July that Rouse did not receive a fair trial in the Philippines and suffered cruel an inhuman punishment by not getting proper medical treatment while in custody.

Rouse resigned last session as office manager to state Rep. Rida Cabanilla, D-42nd (Waipahu, Honouliuli, 'Ewa), after rumors of his sex-crime conviction surfaced at the Capitol. He was hired this session as a legislative aide to Baker and has declined to comment on the charge against Kanno.

Kanno has not responded to numerous requests for comment.

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.