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G.E.T Committee approves Guzman nomination for Prosecuting Attorney

The nomination of Donald S. Guzman to head the Office of Prosecuting Attorney was approved today by a vote of 8 to 0 (with member Hokama excused) at a morning meeting of the Maui County Council’s Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee (GET). The nomination will now move to the full council. Today’s sparsely attended meeting was a continuation of the session on Tuesday, February 12 which heard extensive public testimony, much of it favorable to Guzman. Most of the written testimony was also favorable to the nominee.

On Tuesday Guzman’s most persuasive advocate was Deputy Prosecutor Andrew Martin, the supervising deputy in charge of the Circuit Court Division. Martin said that during the Kim years most decisions were “unilateral” (i.e. made by Kim) and that others in the department were seldom consulted. He also said management meetings were seldom held. Martin noted that he had only known Guzman briefly, however in that short time he had praise for him and the fact that he immediately called a management meeting of all divisions and promised a “team approach” going forward. Martin said Guzman also made a concerted effort to get to know his new staff personally.

Guzman comes to the office with an extensive legal and public service background. An attorney by training he served as a Maui deputy prosecutor from mid 2000 to mid 2005; he then went on to be an attorney in private practice in Wailuku. He ran for county council and served from Jan. 2013 through December 2018. During his years in office he headed the council’s legal affairs committee from 2014 to the end of 2018.  

In 2018 he was an unsuccessful candidate for Maui mayor, in a three way race won by Victorino.

Asked why he wanted the job Guzman replied, “I still have it in me to serve.” He stressed his qualifications and placed an emphasis on a team approach, adding that his top three priorities would be a Maui County Children’s Peace Center, “proactive recruitment” to fill departmental vacancies with qualified staff, and a push for a statewide witness advocacy academy to give more effective counseling to victims. He also mentioned addressing the issue of overtime, which he attributed in part to needing additional clerical staff, and also thought it would be helpful to examine and improve “existing protocols” within the department. If confirmed Guzman will supervise a staff of 85, of whom 33 are attorneys, and an operating budget just shy of a million dollars.

Today’s meeting saw several rounds of questioning by council members, much of which focused on topics such as excessive overtime, backlog of cases, treatment of victims and witnesses, alleged favoritism and nepotism, and the need to fill existing departmental vacancies.

Guzman’s answers tended to be long and often indirect, to the point where GET Chair Molina had to cut him short saying that his response was already sufficient. In another instance Chief of Staff Deidre Tegarden seated next to him put her hand on his arm, as if to slow the flow of words. He also wandered from the subject at hand and was half way through an opinion on conflicting provisions of the charter, before he thought better of the response and stopped in mid sentence.

A number of council members asked him about anger issues and allegations that as a council member he’d had a hot temper. Guzman response was he might have become “passionate and vocal” as a council member, adding,“but you won’t see that as an administrator.”

Asked directly by Council Chair Kelly King if he would rehire Kim as a deputy, Guzman replied that the mayor had asked him to “bring in Kim, but that Kim had decided to retire.”

Maui is the only one of Hawaii’s counties with an appointed prosecutor, asked by King if he would favor making the office an elected one, he replied in the affirmative.

Guzman was also asked if he was committed to the job, or might he leave it soon to seek elected office? Guzman said if confirmed he would commit to a full four year term. Asked by member Sugimura if he “Could work with the mayor?” who only months before had been his political rival. Guzman responded emphatically, “I will do the right thing.”

Besides his loquacious style, others noted that he had only brought legal action before a judge and had no experience in prosecuting jury trials, to which he replied that there were many deputies who had extensive expertise in that area and he would rely on his staff.

The bombshell of the morning came just before the vote when Council Vice Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez alleged that Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Robert Rivera and his wife were driving a truck that was illegally removed from department’s forfeited property log and were using it as a personal vehicle. She said license and VIN numbers matched and the vehicle had been parked in Rivera’s county parking space as recently as three days ago. Guzman said this was first he had heard of the matter and promised to look into the situation and “follow the proper protocols.” Adding, “if necessary I would welcome a performance and financial audit.”

In the end it was the human side of Guzman, a person who took counsel in prayer, found himself most moved in private practice by difficult divorce and custody cases and as a future prosecuting attorney hoped “to reach out to the family and individuals who did not receive the help from the former prosecutor,” that seemed to be most convincing to the council, who voted overwhelmingly in committee to approve the nomination. Council member Hokama, who was present for most of the meeting, was excused and left before the vote.

All eight remaining members voted to approve the nomination.

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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