Native Hawaiian activist Mililani Trask is suing Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Peter Apo, accusing him of violating his responsibilities stemming from alleged incidents of sexual harassment.
The complaint, filed Friday in 1st Circuit Court, argues that Apo has a duty to not use OHA funds for his own personal purposes as well as “to refrain from unreasonable, imprudent or unlawful acts” that could expose the government agency to civil liability, financial damage or loss of reputation.
The lawsuit, which also lists 10 unidentified defendants, asks that Apo be found liable to pay for the settlement and any attorney fees in the matter.
Trask, a former OHA trustee who unsuccessfully sought to return to OHA in the 2016 elections, identifies herself in the lawsuit as a Hawaii taxpayer and OHA beneficiary.
The agency has as its mission the improvement of the lives of Native Hawaiians.
Trask says she “effectively paid into” OHA’s settlement of sexual harassment charges against Apo, “who made unwelcome sexual advances to his aide.”
In January, a Hawaii News Now report said OHA paid $50,000 to a former employee over the allegations.
In that report, Trask described OHA’s payment to the woman as a “cover up.”
OHA had no comment at the time, calling it “a personnel matter.”
Meanwhile, Apo said in a statement at the time, “While I cannot comment directly on her allegations, I can say that I have never broken trust with the OHA beneficiaries I serve.”
He asked the public for “a fair shake” and to not jump to conclusions, “considering the source of the report.”
Trask and Apo did not respond to inquiries Monday about the lawsuit. OHA spokesman Sterling Wong said OHA leaders had no comment.
Trask is represented by Bickerton Dang, which is representing royal descendant Abigail Kawananakoa in a lawsuit asking a court to rule on whether the contract of OHA CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe is valid.
The same law firm is representing Trustee Rowena Akana in a lawsuit filed against the eight other trustees, one also centered on allegations of breach of fiduciary responsibilities.
The other trustees, which include Apo, have countersued. OHA’s legal firm is Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing.
Akana is an ally of Trask’s, and both have consistently criticized OHA’s operations and management, in particular its spending habits.
Akana served briefly as OHA chairwoman from early December to February before being deposed by a faction that includes Apo. Colette Machado was returned to the chair position.
‘Unwelcome’ Sexual Advances
Trask’s lawsuit alleges that a “young female law graduate” (identified as Jane Doe for confidentiality purposes) was hired as Apo’s aide in 2015. The trustee soon began to make “inappropriate” sexual comments and to subject her to “unwelcome” sexual advances.
The alleged harassment continued when the aide traveled with Apo for board business on neighbor islands.
“The harassment included invitations to his room” where Apo appeared “partially clothed” and sought physical contact without mutual consent, the lawsuit states.
The aide was also required to work on Apo’s private business matters, even though this work was an “improper” use of OHA resources. It includes correspondence related to a contract Apo had with Civil Beat when he was a columnist for the online news site.
Jane Doe filed a complaint with OHA. Apo’s former aide returned to her previous job and Doe was placed on leave with pay, later without pay, and was ultimately terminated.
Apo’s conduct, according to the lawsuit, constitutes “a knowing and willful or at least reckless, breach of his fiduciary duty for which he is liable to OHA and its beneficiaries for all resulting harm.”
Jane Doe subsequently initiated a legal claim against Apo and OHA, one which resulted in “a substantial sum” to settle the claims and secure a confidentiality agreement.
“This is not an academic controversy but is a live issue,” the lawsuit explains.