Kawauchi gets law license back

  • Jamae Kawauchi (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Former County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi on Thursday got her law license back.

The state Supreme Court, in an order signed by all five justices and filed Thursday morning, said Kawauchi’s license was reinstated as of the entry of the court order.

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“We conclude Respondent Kawauchi has complied with the terms of her suspension,” the ruling said.

Kawauchi was suspended July 8 for 150 days for improper use of client funds. She had to pass the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam before reinstatement, under the court order.

Kawauchi stipulated that she “withdrew from her client trust account client funds for her own use and benefit that she had not earned, failed to inform the client of the withdrawals, allowed the balance of the client trust account to fall below the level of funds to which clients had a claim, failed, over a five-month period, to promptly refund monies that were the property of the client,” and other violations of the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct.

The Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which prosecuted the case, stipulated that Kawauchi “had a clean disciplinary record, made full and free disclosures and displayed a cooperative attitude toward the proceedings.” She also, after five months, fully refunded the requested amount, the office said.

Kawauchi, who served as county clerk from 2010 to 2012 while former Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong was chairman, resigned that post when Yagong left office.

Her tenure as clerk was marred by controversy after she fired four Elections Division staff when evidence surfaced of staff drinking alcohol and running a private business out of the elections warehouse. Problems with late poll openings during the primary election resulted in the state Office of Elections taking over operations during the 2012 general election.

Kawauchi and Yagong last year won a protracted lawsuit before the Intermediate Court of Appeals, after they were sued for defamation in 2012 by Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto and another elections worker.

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That case is pending before the state Supreme Court. The county is not providing legal counsel, requiring Kawauchi and Yagong to hire private attorneys.

Kawauchi did not return a message for comment by press time Thursday.