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Mateo Re-election Challenge Dismissed

Judge rules case belongs in Supreme Court.

A Second Circuit Court judge threw out the challenge to Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo’s candidacy last week, saying he didn’t have authority to rule on the case.

At a hearing Sept. 16, Judge Joel August said the case was in the jurisdiction of the Hawaii Supreme Court. Attorney Lance Collins said in an interview he plans to file a new challenge with the Supreme Court this week.

His client, Nellie Laird-Woods of Lahaina, had filed the petition seeking to disqualify Mateo, who represents Molokai on the county council, from November’s ballot, arguing another full term and he would exceed the five-term limit.

Mateo was appointed to his seat in 2002 after Council Member Pat Kawano died. He was elected later that year and is now running unopposed for his fifth full term. But because he served part of the 2001-2003 term, Laird-Woods argues, he would exceed the limit if he won and served the 2011-2013 term.

In an interview last Friday, Mateo said the partial term should not count against him because he was appointed to the seat. But in court documents, Laird-Woods cites the Maui County Charter, which says council members must not “serve more than five consecutives full terms of office.”

“The charter does not make a distinction between appointed and elected,” Collins said.

Alleged Retaliation
Laird-Woods’ effort to bar him from re-election, Mateo said, is tied to his opposition to a proposed change to how council members are elected – replacing at-large elections with single-member districts.

In July, council members voted to keep the issue off November’s ballot, referring it instead to a yet-to-be-formed charter commission. The amendment would create nine single-member districts according to population, eliminating seats that represent Molokai and Lanai exclusively.

“I have been the strongest proponent against district voting because it doesn’t benefit Molokai and Lanai,” Mateo said. “This [suit] is what you call retribution.”

Collins disputed this idea, saying his client’s objection “predates the district voting thing by some time.”

Laird-Woods had filed an objection to Mateo’s nomination papers with the county clerk’s office on Aug. 11 after Mateo submitted his nomination papers. County Clerk Jeffrey Kuwada ruled that it was “not sustained,” according to court documents. She filed a petition with the Second Circuit Court on Aug. 27.

If Mateo is barred from the election, there would be a special election to fill his seat.

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