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Sexual harassment suit against ex-Hilo councilman appealed

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    Stacy Higa

KAILUA-KONA » A complaint filed by former Hilo County Council member and mayoral candidate Stacy Higa claims the county didn’t defend him properly in a sexual harassment case from nearly ten years ago.

The complaint has been filed with the Intermediate Court of Appeals. According to court documents, it alleges legal malpractice by the county for not providing Higa an appropriate defense in the case brought by Higa’s former aide, Melissa Chang, who claimed she was harassed by Higa in 2005 and 2006.

“There are issues whether the county corporation counsel properly defended and assisted the client and didn’t turn against their client,” Honolulu attorney William Harrison, representing Higa, said Thursday.

The county ended up paying nearly $250,000 to settle the case. It also won a summary judgment in circuit court when it argued Higa can’t prove the charges and the county’s defense cost him the mayoral election, West Hawaii Today reported.

The two-term lawmaker had received just under 6 percent of votes in the 2008 primary election after the allegations against him became public. He finished in fourth place out of eight candidates.

The appeal asks for the summary judgment to be reversed and seeks to have the case sent back to trial.

The county has responded by asking the appeals court to reverse the circuit court’s order denying the county attorney fees in the case.

The county states in its answer brief that it “prevailed on summary judgment because Higas’ claims rest purely on speculative allegations and they failed to meet their burden of proof to establish legal malpractice.” It also notes that former Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida was defending the county, not Higa, in the lawsuit and that Higa was advised to seek a private attorney.

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