While International Women’s Day began in Maui County Council Chambers with morning affirmations of the importance of gender equality and women in positions of power, events at the end of the evening proved that upsetting the patriarchy isn’t a mere day’s work. At 12:15am on March 9, Maui County’s top civil lawyer, Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong was arrested and charged by the Maui Police Department for physical abuse of a household member, later confirmed to be Wong’s girlfriend. MPD’s logs show that emergency medical services were called for injuries sustained in the incident, and that Wong was released on $1,000 bail.
Hours after the first report of the incident aired on Hawaii News Now (which identified the victim only as “she” and stated she feared retaliation from Wong due to his powerful position in the county), Mayor Mike Victorino released a statement that Wong had been placed on administrative leave. After repeated requests for clarification, the mayor’s Communications Office confirmed on March 12 that Wong’s leave is paid and with benefits.
“I have zero tolerance for domestic abuse,” Victorino said in another statement released Monday. “Still, our justice system provides due process. A defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
In the statement, Victorino identified First Deputy Corporation Counsel Edward Kushi as the interim manager of the Department of Corporation Counsel. Multiple inquiries to the mayor’s Communications Office from MauiTime regarding the length of Kushi’s interim role, the hiring of new staff to accommodate the personnel shortage, and factors that will be considered in the removal or reinstatement of Wong went unanswered as of press time.
Wong, a nominee of Mayor Victorino, was recently approved by the council in a 5-4 vote to continue to serve as Corporation Counsel, a post he has held since being first appointed in 2011. The arrest sheds new light on some of the testimony received during his contentious confirmation process, in which Wong was accused of abusing power, losing his temper, and intimidation.
“Several of us on the council had these concerns,” said Council Chair Kelly King, who voted to disapprove Wong during confirmation hearings. “Not necessarily about domestic violence against a partner, but about intimidation and potential retaliation, and if there was fairness in his office.”
King added that she knows Wong has yet to be convicted of a crime, but maintained that being arrested “is no small thing.” When asked whether paid leave is an appropriate consequence for someone charged with a violent crime, however, King said “that’s how you do things when you don’t have a conviction.” In some instances, she explained, paid administrative leave has served to protect the wrongly accused while they are under investigation.
Rather, “we need a culture shift in Maui,” she stated. “We’re still thinking like a small town community but we have big city issues… We have all the things that plague big cities and we’re still operating within a culture of cronyism and nepotism, rather than looking at how we are going to fulfill the needs of the residents with real professionals.”
As far as the issue of men in positions of power who abuse power, which has grown in the national social consciousness over the last year with the #MeToo movement, King said that “one of the things that’s needed is gender balance. Not just in our elected positions, but also our appointed positions. You didn’t see much gender balance in this first round of appointments. There are two women and the rest were men.”
“I think that’s one of the things that has to happen to be a bigger shift in power, not just in politics, but in the administration.”
In the short term, though, King said that she hopes there is a full investigation and all the facts are provided, given Wong’s position as Corporation Counsel and legal advisor to the county.
King added that she heard her colleagues suggest that Wong should step down. “Given these allegations, I think that’s something he should really be thinking about. The mayor should be seriously thinking about that: How can [Wong] go back to being the director and there not be major doubts?”
Update 3/14: Following MauiTime’s Saturday request, Maui Police Department provided Wong’s booking photo, shown below.