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Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court — No. SCWC-16-0000413

No. SCWC-16-0000413, Thursday, May 31, 2018, 11:15 a.m.

STATE OF HAWAII, Respondent/Plaintiff-Appellant, vs. LAURA PITOLO, Petitioner/Defendant-Appellee.

The above-captioned case has been set for argument on the merits at:

Supreme Court Courtroom
Ali iolani Hale, 2nd Floor
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

Attorney for Petitioner:

Taryn R. Tomasa, Deputy Public Defender

Attorney for Respondent:

Michael Kagami, Special Deputy Attorney General

COURT: MER, C.J.; PAN, SSM, RWP, and MDW, JJ.

Listen to the entire audio recording in mp3 format  ]

Brief Description:

Laura Pitolo (“Pitolo”) was an employee of Waianae Community Outreach (“WCO”), an organization funded in part by the Department of Human Services (“DHS”). Pitolo left WCO in May 2010, and shortly thereafter WCO’s Executive Director discovered a number of unauthorized checks allegedly written by Pitolo. The Executive Director reported these checks to the Honolulu Police Department (“HPD”) in August 2010. HPD interviewed the Executive Director, but did not pursue the investigation at that time.

In July 2013, WCO filed a civil complaint against Pitolo, accusing her of obtaining WCO funds by issuing unauthorized checks and engaging in unauthorized debit and ATM transactions starting in 2007 and continuing through 2010. On September 5, 2013, DHS started an investigation and audit of WCO, after learning of WCO’s civil complaint. In November 2013, the State of Hawai i (“State”) began a criminal investigation of Pitolo’s alleged activity.

On March 17, 2015, the State charged Pitolo with five counts of Theft in the First Degree and one count of Theft in the Second Degree. In Counts 1, 2, and 3, the State alleged that Pitolo had written checks from WCO’s bank accounts to two individuals and herself over various periods of time in 2007 through 2010. In Counts 4 and 5, the State alleged she made ATM withdrawals and engaged in debit transactions from WCO’s bank accounts over the same period of time. In Count 6, the State alleged Pitolo wrote a single WCO check to her landlord in 2010. All six counts alleged that Pitolo deprived the State and WCO of money by deception and that each offense was discovered after September 5, 2013.

Pitolo moved to dismiss all six counts, asserting the statute of limitations for the charges had expired. The circuit court agreed, finding the six counts were all part of a single continuing course of conduct for which the statute of limitations had run, and granted the motion to dismiss the six charges with prejudice.

The State appealed. The ICA determined the statute of limitations for Counts 1, 2, and 3 had run, but concluded the circuit court erred in treating all six counts as a single continuing course of conduct. The ICA held that Counts 4, 5, and 6 were not time-barred from prosecution, and therefore vacated the circuit court’s dismissal of Counts 4, 5, and 6.

Pitolo now petitions for certiorari, contending the ICA erred in two ways: (1) by concluding Counts 4, 5, and 6 were separate offenses with separate discovery dates for statute of limitations purposes; and (2) by applying a test of its own invention to determine their discovery dates, based on when individual unlawful transactions were discovered by law enforcement.