[NOTE: This story has been updated to include the County of Maui Corporation Counsel's response to the lawsuit]
Maui County Liquor Control Inspector James D. Lloy has many qualities, but subtlety isn’t apparently one of them. “[T]his isn’t the mainland,” he allegedly told rookie LC Inspector Justin Dobbs in late April 2011 when Dobbs questioned some of the freebies he and his fellow LC officers were allegedly receiving from establishments they were supposed to be investigating. “[T]hese are gifts of Aloha [and] go along with the program if you want to make it in this Department.”
The quote appears in a lawsuit Dobbs filed in Maui County Superior Court on Friday, Oct. 12 against the County of Maui, Liquor Control Department Director Franklyn Silva, LC Chief Enforcement Officer and retired LC Officers Harry Matsuura and Lloy. I was unable to locate either Matsuura or Lloy by press time (Silva told me Lloy had recently left Maui and gave no forwarding number, and though he said Matsuura was “in the book,” I could find no listing for him).
As for the County of Maui, their Corporation Counsel is, predictably, taking a very hard line against the suit, calling it “frivolous” and “without merit.” Here’s their official response, written by Deputy Corporation Counsel Richard Rost (in 2006, I watched Rost’s father, a private attorney, win a rare but complete exoneration for his client before the LC Board of Adjudication*) and released a few minutes before 5pm on Oct. 19:
The claims contained in Plaintiff Justin Dobbs’ complaint are without merit. Plaintiff was terminated by the County for misconduct. Plaintiff’s claim for unemployment benefits was rejected because Plaintiff was terminated for cause. In addition, Plaintiff abandoned his union grievance that sought reinstatement to his former job with the County.
The County aggressively defends against frivolous lawsuits. The County is confident that it, and all the named defendants, will prevail.
Dobbs’s suit says he spent five years as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army from 1997 to 2002, and was honorably discharged. From 2005 to 2008, he says he worked as a Deputy Sheriff in the small Northern California town of Marysville. In early 2010, Dobbs’ suit states, he applied to be a Maui County Liquor Control Officer. After passing the written test and getting approval to begin training that summer, he moved his family to Maui.
(For a PDF of Dobbs’ complaint, click on this link: Dobbs Filed Complaint)
But Dobbs worked for the LC for barely a year. Terminated by the LC in August 2011 after receiving a letter from his LC superiors stating “that he was under investigation for workplace violence for false allegations that were mischaracterizations taken out of context.” In fact, Dobbs alleges in his complaint, Dobbs says he was a whistleblower who got sick of watching his fellow LC inspectors and employees get tons of freebies from the establishments they were supposed to be inspecting and was fired after taking his concerns to his superiors.
“He thought he could just talk to them,” said Dobbs attorney Carpenter-Asui in a phone interview. “He thought he could massage them into changing. He had just received an impeccable evaluation and a raise. But they came back real fast.”
Dobbs’ complaint names names–both of the LC inspectors Dobbs allegedly witnessed acting in a manner contrary to county policy and of the bars and restaurants (mostly Korean hostess bars) that were offering up free food, drinks and more (Honolulu attorney Venetia K. Carpenter-Asui, Dobb’s attorney, clarified in a phone call today that the “drinks” were non-alcoholic) . Dobbs alleges that numerous establishments sent the LC’s main office “gifts of food including sushi rolls, pastries [and] doughnuts on a weekly basis” and that “All of the employees of the Department of Liquor Control Enforcement Division and Administration Division would eat these gifts.”
According to Dobbs’ complaint, here’s what the Charter of the County of Maui says on gifts:
No officer or employee of the county shall: Solicit, accept or receive any gift; directly or indirectly, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the officer’s or employee’s part.
At times, Dobbs’ complaint reads like a dime novel. Here’s one of the more salacious excerpts, which allegedly took place at “Donna’s Place” (I believe he means “Donna’s Lounge,” as there is no “Donna’s Place” listed on Maui):
[O]n or about December 2010 Plaintiff and Defendant MATSUURA entered the front door, and Plaintiff saw what looked like under age females run to a room in the front of the establishment and close the door. Plaintiff began walking to the room, and was stopped by Defendant MATSUURA who told Plaintiff ‘we do not regulated [sic] the back rooms because there is no liquor served there”, but these were under age females (younger than 21 years of age) in a liquor premises, which was a violation of law, but Defendant MATSUURA still prohibited Plaintiff from investigating or entering the room.
I was unable to get any sort of comment from a representative of Donna’s Lounge, which seems to be closed. When I called the number listed for that establishment, a woman answered the phone saying, “Cindy’s.” When I asked if the place used to be Donna’s, she hung up on me.
The Maui News ran a front page article on the lawsuit today (you can read their story here) but did not name any of the retired LC personnel, bars or restaurants listed in Dobbs’ complaint.
Again, if you’d like to read a PDF of Dobbs’ complaint in all its glory, click here.
* This story originally ascribe actions of Deputy Corporation Counsel Richard Rost’s father to himself. I regret the error.