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Mayor Caldwell asks Honolulu City Council to confirm acting corporation counsel to permanent appointment

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / MARCH 9
                                Paul Aoki
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / MARCH 9

Paul Aoki

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2019
                                Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, shown here at a 2019 news conference, is on paid leave after receiving a target letter from the U.S. Department of Justice.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2019

Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, shown here at a 2019 news conference, is on paid leave after receiving a target letter from the U.S. Department of Justice.

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / MARCH 9
                                Paul Aoki
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2019
                                Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, shown here at a 2019 news conference, is on paid leave after receiving a target letter from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell has asked the Honolulu City Council to make Paul Aoki the city’s permanent corporation counsel.

In January of 2019, now-retired Corporation Counsel Donna Leong was targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice in its federal investigation of Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, former Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.

Aoki has been acting corporation counsel since then.

“He has been a Deputy Corporation Counsel, the First Deputy Corporation Counsel, and Acting Corporation Counsel,” Caldwell told the council members in his written request, adding that Aoki is “an experienced, capable and dedicated leader, and I would deeply appreciate your confirmation of his appointment.”

Aoki has been part of the Department of the Corporation Counsel since 2013, per his resume, which was included in Caldwell’s Monday letter.

Leong, who was appointed by Caldwell in March 2013, was the chief legal advisor for Caldwell, the City Council and city agencies until going on paid leave after receiving a target letter from the DOJ.

In a letter to Caldwell dated July 13, Leong announced her retirement effective Aug. 1.

“I had hoped to return to work to continue my service to the people of the City and to retire upon the expiration of your term,” Leong wrote to Caldwell. “Your recent actions make it clear that this is no longer an option, and, thus, I submit this letter informing you of my retirement without waiver of my rights under the law with regard thereto.”

It’s not clear what actions Leong was referring to. Caldwell’s office was not immediately available for comment.

Leong’s attorney has said the DOJ’s letter revolved around her involvement in advising the Honolulu Police Commission, which agreed to allow Kealoha to retire with full benefits and a $250,000 severance check in 2017. Caldwell in January said that he was looking at options to bring Leong back to the city to work, although not as corporation counsel.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Caldwell has consulted with Aoki about the legality of making emergency proclamations.

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