Greenwood asked UH Regents for $2 million payout in demand letter

Published: Nov. 13, 2012 at 8:59 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 14, 2012 at 9:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lawyer for University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood sent the UH Regents a demand letter last month, saying she had been "severely defamed" after the Stevie Wonder blunder and would be willing to leave the university for a payment of $2 million, a demand her lawyer has since withdrawn.

Greenwood's attorney, Jerry Hiatt, a longtime employment lawyer from the Big Island, sent the ten-page letter to the UH Regents on Oct. 2 with the heading "Re: M.R.C. Greenwood v. University of Hawaii and State of Hawaii."

The regents have since held three closed-door meetings to discuss whether Greenwood should be terminated, and the regents hired well-known attorney Bill McCorriston to represent them in the case.

The letter says that on Aug. 10, Greenwood had a previously-scheduled meeting with Governor Neil Abercrombie, his Chief of Staff Bruce Coppa, and another aide, just one day before then-UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan signed a settlement to step down from his post and take a newly-created communications job at UH Manoa.

At that meeting, Greenwood's lawyer claimed she received "direct pressure" to "abandon the settlement and to reinstate Mr. Donovan to the AD position."

Reached for comment about the allegations, Abercrombie's press secretary Louise Kim McCoy released a statement Tuesday afternoon that said, "The Governor did not put any pressure on President Greenwood. In fact, when President Greenwood asked the Governor for advice on how to handle the situation at UH, the Governor suggested options to President Greenwood in response to her request."

Six days later, on Aug. 16, Greenwood claimed Abercrombie left her a voice mail when he tried to get her to call a special Board of Regents' meeting to reinstate Donovan as AD.

Greenwood's lawyer quoted Abercrombie's voice mail as saying, "if this issue is not resolved, decisively on Wednesday, by Thursday, you're going to be in the thick of a Senate investigation and all that entails. I don't think that's a good outcome."

Within two weeks of that call, the State Senate special committee on accountability scheduled special briefings into the failed concert.

"In no way was the governor involved in the Senate leadership's decision to hold hearings," said State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D- Moanalua, Aiea, Kalihi Valley), who chaired the briefings. "That decision was made in response to the outcry from the public. We are never influenced by the governor about what hearings we hold. We are a separate branch of government."

At the briefings, Abercrombie's Chief of Staff Bruce Coppa, who Greenwood said was at the meeting with the governor, denied the governor had pressured her and said Abercrombie only told her to consider all her options. Abercrombie officials have said it was common for Greenwood to meet with them and state legislative leaders to discuss issues and to receive their advice on all kinds of issues.

Coppa declined to comment on Tuesday.

But Greenwood's lawyer wrote: "In light of these events, Dr. Greenwood has regrettably concluded that she has not been given the ability to function independently, as is required of the office of the President of UH, and that she has been severely defamed."

The letter continued: "she feels that her contract with UH has been breached and her ability to function has been severely impaired -- all through no fault of her own." The letter did not point to which clause in her contract she claimed was broken by the pressure she said she received.

Hiatt said Greenwood is entitled to damages under Hawaii's whistleblowers protection law. He also said her health has suffered from high blood pressure, sleeplessness, stomach problems and what he called other "serious physical illness" as a result of the situation.

The letter also said, "However, she is willing to support the University and to allow it to move on under new leadership if that can be done fairly. She is willing to provide a complete release in consideration of $2,000,000, an amount approximately equal to only her special damages, attorneys' fees and costs ..."

That's significantly more than Greenwood's contract calls for if she's terminated without cause. Her contract said UH would pay her one year's salary of $475,000, provide up to two months of housing allowance worth $10,000 and reimbursement for moving expenses.

In a statement, McCorriston, the special counsel for the UH Regents, said Greenwood withdrew the demand letter one week ago, on Nov. 6. He said the Board of Regents "has not accepted any conditions to the withdrawal of the demand letter."

"We have accepted the withdrawal without conditions," McCorriston said.

McCorriston did not explain what Greenwood's lawyer's conditions were for rescinding the letter "without prejudice," meaning Greenwood could re-file her demands later and was not waving her right to file a lawsuit later.

The Board of Regents "continues to act independently under its constitutional mandate and will continue to focus on the mission of the University," McCorriston said.

Jerry Hiatt, Greenwood's attorney, said his client was traveling on business and was not available to comment.

Asked if the regents and Greenwood were close to reaching an agreement about whether she would stay at the university, Hiatt said, "Dr. Greenwood has been assiduously doing her job to protect the independence of the university and she expects to continue doing that for the rest of her appointed term."

He declined further comment.

The regents' agenda for their Nov. 15 meeting at UH Maui includes a discussion in closed-door executive session about Greenwood's appointment agreement, the fourth secret discussion the panel has held on the subject.

Greenwood's contract expires July 31, 2015.

Related Stories:

UH concert fraud suspect released in North Carolina

2 men indicted in Stevie Wonder blunder

UH Regents to reconsider Donovan settlement at special Nov. 7 meeting

Sources: Letter from Greenwood's lawyer prompted special regents' meeting

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