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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hawaii County sex case settled

By Stephens Media

HILO, Hawai'i Big Island taxpayers will pay at least $22,000 to settle a sexual harassment complaint against a former County Council chairman by one of his aides.

The County Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a settlement to resolve the 2007 complaint by former aide Melissa Chang.

Chang, who worked for former Hilo Councilman Stacy Higa, claimed she was sexually harassed by Higa, and then threatened with retaliation by former Councilman James Arakaki if she tried to do anything about it.

Council members met privately Wednesday with their attorneys before voting in public to approve the lawyers' recommendations, which were not revealed.

Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida said council members discussed the case, as well as a related lawsuit Higa filed against the county in 2008 claiming the county failed to represent him properly.

On Wednesday, lawmakers also rejected Higa's offer to settle that case for $750,000. The case now appears to be heading for trial.

Mike Nauyokas, an attorney representing Higa, said the council had settled with Chang. Nauyokas said he confirmed the settlement with two reliable sources, at least one of whom is on the council.

Nauyokas said he learned Thursday the settlement offer was for $22,000. The relatively low amount "exonerates" Higa, Nauyokas said.

"It just proves that if they're willing to take that, there's no merit to the claim," he said. "I think this clears (Higa)."

North Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell said Thursday he thought the amount was "in the neighborhood of $22,000."

Two other sources, including another council member, said the settlement was at least $200,000.

Neither Chang nor her attorney, Stanford Masui, returned phone messages seeking comment on the council's decision.