John J. D

John J. D'Amato

Listed in Best Lawyers since 2007
Phone: 808-546-5200

I have been practicing almost exclusively in the area of benefits for more than 20 years.  My firm's practice is problem driven rather form driven.  We work on benefit problems in all areas, including benefit plan design, mergers and acquisitions, the compliance programs of the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service, benefit litigation, and withdrawal liability. 

Before graduating from Yale Law School, I was commissioned as an infantry lieutenant in the U.S. Army, served as a platoon leader in Vietnam, was a grantee at the East-West Center and earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Hawaii.  I have been married to Kristina for 29 years and our daughter, Maia, is 12.   

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Yale Law SchoolJ.D. 1991

Case History

Cecilio v. Sea Nine Associates, Inc. (1st Circuit, Hawaii 2010) — Won a favorable settlement for plaintiffs against persons involved in the promotion of a "10 or more employer plan" illegal tax shelter.
Goodin v. Innovative Technical Solutions, Inc., 489 F.Supp.2d 1157 (D.Haw. 2007) — Won summary judgment for plaintiffs in an ERISA suit of first impression.  The trial court agreed with us that amending a KSOP to deprive plan participants of a put option for company stock purchased with elective deferrals violates ERISA's anti-cutback rule.
Acquistions: Hawaiian Telcom Communications, Inc. ; Princeville Hotel and Resort; Kahala Hotel; Pacific Machinery, Inc. — Have represented buyers and sellers as benefits counsel in large acquisitions and sales.
Jackson v. Abercrombie, Memorandum, Nos. 12-16995, 12-16998, 9th Circuit (10/10/2014)

This case challenged Hawaii's ban on same sex marriage, arguing that it violated the right of Gay couples to Equal Protection. The trial court upheld the ban, ruling that the State did not have to justify excluding Gay people from the right to marry and could be indifferent to any harms caused by such exclusion. While the case was on appeal, Hawaii law was changed to provide for marriage equality, thereby mooting the case. The 9th Circuit then vacated the trial court's ruling, stating that it was "particularly appropriate" to do so in view of its ruling in closely similar Idaho and Nevada cases that denying Gay people the right to marry violates their right to Equal Protection.

Client Comments

"John D'Amato is one of my most valued resources. He is knowledgeable, accessible, resourceful, and always reliable. Mr. D'Amato can always be counted on to calmly navigate through seemingly complicated matters with favorable outcomes. I would refer any of our clients to Mr. D'Amato for legal assistance with their benefit programs. "

"John D'Amato has been the attorney for my family's limited partnership for the past two decades. During this time, we have had to deal with lease negotiations, sale and purchase of real estate holdings, tax issues, and related matters. In all of these undertakings, John has shown exceptional competence and keen insights that have helped us to resolve many knotty problems and to avert others before they arose. Our family is highly appreciative of John's continuing dedication to our best interests."

"We are a third party administrator for qualified retirement plans and have worked with John D'Amato on several occasions. His results have been spectacular. He has gotten resolution to knotty problems for sanctions that were pennies on the dollar that I expected to see assessed by various governmental agencies. A true miracle worker in my book."

"John D'Amato was able to navigate a very confusing QDRO overpayment situation two years after my divorce and after 10 months of back and forth with the plan administrator who made the overpayment. Before I was referred to John by my financial advisor, I had several other attorneys review my case, and they had no idea where to even start. John took charge and represented me with the best possible outcome and resolved the issues promptly. He was extremely knowledgable and very easy to work with. You are in great hands when John is on your side. I highly recommend John D'Amato."

"I would like to take this opportunity to recommend John D'Amato. John has represented me since January 26, 2012 and with his help we were able to get Marriage Equality in the State of Hawaii. I can't express enough gratitude for his unending support. Mahalo John, you've changed our lives and the state of Hawaii for the good of everyone! "

"John D'Amato was recommended to me by a Pension Services Company in Alaska to help resolve a deceased relative's Profit Sharing Trust (PST) Estate in Hawaii. Thank Goodness, because John is the best. He was able to review the PST and communicate the issues and potential solutions in a clear and understandable way. He listened and considered all my numerous layperson questions with the utmost professionalism, researching until he had answers or options. He has a great manner and an incredible work ethic, juggling many high profile cases while helping this little guy at the same time. He recommended other professionals outside of his office for related PST matters, and they were exceptional to work with also. John's expertise saved the PST thousands of dollars, both working with difficult Hawaiian Banks and the IRS. I would you recommend John for any and all benefits matters!"

"John's ability to sort through difficult issues and to develop a well thought-out plan of action makes him one of the best in his field."

-Bonnie Fong
Bank of Hawaii

"John D'Amato helped us settle a claim for false and deceptive trade practices against an investment advisory company. Throughout the process he worked tirelessly on our behalf, showing great integrity and absolute commitment to the success of our case. His written work was excellent and his legal analysis was insightful, thorough, and practical. Most importantly, he always listened carefully to our questions and concerns and responded quickly with clear analysis and advice. John is truly an attorney of the very highest caliber."

-Gail Migita
Albert and Rose Shinkawa

"John is an outstanding attorney in every way. His knowledge of ERISA is superb and his awareness of the case law is vast. He provides an in-depth understanding of the case history and is able to communicate the nuances to the layman. His work ethic is extraordinary and he treats every client with respect. He is quick to respond to all questions and issues, and when he is not sure about something, he will respond as such, and will then research it to clarify the issue. He is well regarded in the community and I would not use any other lawyer in this area of expertise."

-James Karins
Pukoa Scientific

"Besides being extremely knowledgeable, John D'Amato really looks out for the best interests of the client. In resolving an issue we had with our pension plan, it really felt like John was approaching it as if the problem was his. John kept us well informed throughout the whole process and was on top of everything down to minute details. He was very easy to work with, very accessible, and explained everything to us so that we could understand. John also has an unsurpassed work ethic and worked long hours late into the night in order for us to make filing deadlines. His style is also very pleasant to work with; it felt like we were not only his clients but also his friends that he wanted to sincerely help. I only wished we had known him earlier."

-Mike Nitta
Castle Resorts & Hotels, Inc

"John D'Amato is a straight shooter and patient to a tee. I trust his analysis of our situations. He makes "plan documents" easy to understand for our employees."

-Myra O'Brien
Employee Benefits Administrator
Hawaiian Electric Co.

"I am delighted to recommend Mr. D'Amato. His representation for me has been excellent. His communication is prompt and clear. As a client, I feel that I have been kept abreast of all developments in my case."

-Philip Van Steenwyk

"John D'Amato's knowledge and expertise in the ERISA field is truly exceptional. He is always timely in his responding and a pleasure to work with. John is well respected in the legal and local community. I would highly recommend his services to anyone."

"John D'Amato worked tirelessly on a long-outstanding unresolved issue and helped to bridge the gap between uncooperative parties helping us to avoid expensive litigation. John was professional throughout the process and was never discouraged by the twists and turns in the process."

-Wes Thiessen
Craig Wireless Systems Ltd.

"John has assisted The Gas Company in our transition of benefits from one owner to the next, as well as the review of plan documents for compliance purposes and the preparation of reports to the IRS. I have been impressed with John's thoroughness and commitment to get the job done on a timely basis. He has been responsive to any questions or concerns General Counsel or I have had on the projects being worked on, and he takes the time to ensure that we are all on the same page. John is an extremely powerful communicator with the written language covering all points that need to be addressed and concluding with convincing rationale. Plus, I think he's a nice guy to work with."

"It is a pleasure working with John D'Amato. He has sound technical expertise with practical application."

"John is very responsive and knowledgeable. I respect his work and integrity. He is thorough in his analysis of the issue and comes up with thoughtful responses to help us deal with difficult issues. I would trust him as I would a family member."

"In 2004 I was victimized by unscrupulous "financial advisers" who enticed me to buy into an "IRS pre-certified" VEBA for our company. Within three years this triggered off a massive audit that spanned 8 years and is just now reaching resolution. In addition to increased taxes and interest, the IRS slapped us with a $1 million penalty, imposed a levy on our earnings and threatened to attach our bank accounts and properties. These drove us nearly to the brink of bankruptcy. John D'Amato tenaciously defended us against the IRS and pursued the promoters, including the insurance company, until they refunded their ill-gotten gains. To this date the IRS is giving us abatements on the withheld funds. Should this nightmare ever happen to you, the man to call is John D'Amato."

"John D'Amato is extremely thorough and knowledgeable in his field of expertise. He has been of great assistance to our company which has also led me to confidently refer clients to him as well."

"In an inscrutable area of the law, John is a source of invaluable (and scrutable) advice. He is prompt, courteous, effective, and as knowledgeable in his area as anyone we've dealt with. He is capable of taking the most esoteric problems and making them understandable to the outsider."

-Kenneth Marcus
Starn O'Toole Marcus & Fisher

"I never thought I'd ever need a lawyer, and always dreaded having to obtain one. However, the day did come when I did, and happily I was referred to Mr. D'Amato as an expert in his field. He is. He is an honorable pit bull. He is knowledgeable, firm, and tenacious; he is able to apply experience with understanding. He is also a gentleman. With complete honesty, he explores what can be and what can't be, what is likely versus what isn't, and advises accordingly, not sugar-coating anything. He offers no illusions, but solid hope. He provides a place of reality to ground any expectations and dispel false ones. If there is a solid ethical case, he's ready. If there's not, he'll say so and not invite futility. He supportively encourages his clients; he listens to them, thinks outside the box, and thoroughly knows the law, which enables victims of the corporate unethical and unscrupulous to stand against them. He always keeps clients in the loop and up-to-date on progress, and he invites participation. He does nothing frivolously or without consultation. He honors the relationship and the client. There are lots of lawyer jokes, but without lawyers like Mr. D'Amato, who would stand in the gap, defend the little guy, and insist on justice and restoration? I'd have lost my savings investment without Mr. D'Amato. Mr. D'Amato proves the jokes are all from sour grapes of the losers. Bad guys don't like white knights. Thank you, Mr. D'Amato, for caring and knowing. You've made my experience with lawyers a very good one. Reader, if you need such a lawyer, Mr. D'Amato should be your choice. "

-Catherine Robinson

"Thank goodness John D'Amato doesn't limit his practice to representing only the Employer side of Employee Benefits. He knows the law applicable to both sides thoroughly, and what he seeks is resolution, while firmly representing the interests of his client. He thinks so fast on his feet, it's scary sometimes. However, he will take the time to explain things to whatever level you need, in terms you can understand. He'll respond to every request, big or little, promptly and thoroughly. He knows just when to be compassionate, and when to be firm. His professional courtesy is impeccable; he always takes the high road, but he won't hesitate to up the ante if need be. Needing a lawyer can be a pretty scary thing. There are a lot of sharks in the sea. John D'Amato is special - he's `aumakua."

"John is an excellent attorney and he is great to work with. We have used his firm for ERISA issues and have been impressed by his depth of knowledge and his ability to quickly comprehend and solve our issues. John always gives us a thorough understanding of the laws that are impacting our situation. From that starting framework, he then provides us with excellent analysis of our options and provides timely and cost-effective resolutions for our issues. John's overall customer service is excellent."

"John provides just what is needed: an exhaustive analysis of the legal landscape and a practical way to navigate its currents in a way that achieves an appropriate outcome."

-Bob Maynard
Aloha Petroleum, Ltd.

Office Location

1680 Pioneer Plaza
900 Fort Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
United States

Lawyer of the Year Awards

2012 Lawyer of the Year in Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law of the Honolulu Metro Area
John J. D'Amato has earned a Lawyer of the Year award for 2012!

Practice Areas

Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law (Employment, ERISA, Executive Compensation, Litigation, Pension, Health and Welfare)
Litigation - ERISA