Keith Kaneshiro is the Honolulu City Prosecutor.
He is in his second tenure as city prosecutor. He won a nonpartisan special election in 2010 after former Honolulu City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle stepped down to run for mayor. Kaneshiro was reelected in November 2012 and 2016.
More recently, several defense lawyers who specialize in drunken driving cases were hoping to use Kaneshiro’s words against him in an attempt to beat various DUI charges that have been filed against their clients in Oahu District Court. Also, a federal grand jury has continued hearing witnesses give their testimony about alleged wrongdoings at the police department.
It was a complex scenario that revolved around a three-year-old speeding ticket that was dismissed at the request of city prosecutors in 2014.
But the situation also touched on the ongoing federal grand jury investigation into allegations of high-level corruption and abuse of power by former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, who was one of Kaneshiro’s top deputy prosecutors. That case was settled with Kealoha’s retirement and a resignation by his wife.
Kaneshiro said he investigated several HPD officers for an alleged fake ticketing scheme. But when asked if he would answer questions from Civil Beat, he declined.
Questions were also raised about whether Kaneshiro had been fully honest about his own investigation of HPD officers he accused of issuing fake citations as part of a scheme to collect more overtime pay.
The prosecutor’s office admitted in court records that it did not have documentation that would support all of Kaneshiro’s claims.
“In a DUI case or any other criminal case, the prosecutor’s office has a great amount of credibility and power in the courtroom,” said Kevin O’Grady, who’s one of the defense attorneys trying to wade through the morass. “When a prosecutor speaks, the judge or jury takes their word at it and their word carries great weight.”
O’Grady represented a Kailua man charged with driving under the influence while also speeding 30 miles an hour over the posted limit.
According to O’Grady, one of the Honolulu police officers involved in his client’s arrest is Ty Ah Nee, who was assigned to the Honolulu Police Department’s traffic division.
Ah Nee became an integral player in the federal grand jury investigation into the Kealohas, who were accused, among other things, of framing a family member in a federal criminal case so that they could gain the upper hand in a legal dispute over money.
But some defense attorneys wondered if Ah Nee got a bad rap and was unfairly dragged into the middle of an expanding corruption investigation that raised as many questions about the prosecutor’s office as it did about the police department.
On Aug. 12, 2014, Ah Nee issued a speeding ticket to Adam Wong, a 28-year-old Honolulu man who was driving 78 in a 35-mile-an-hour zone. The following month, Katherine Kealoha, who was a high-ranking supervisor in the prosecutor’s office, went to traffic court to ask a judge to dismiss Wong’s ticket.
Kealoha told the judge that Wong was not the person driving the truck, and that the driver was actually a “career criminal” who had both Wong’s driver’s license and his truck. She further told the judge that the impersonator was “in custody.”
Kaneshiro previously served as city prosecutor from 1989 to 1996.
Kaneshiro has worked in criminal justice for more than 30 years. From 1978 to 1983, he was a deputy prosecutor for Honolulu. Between 1984 and 1988, he worked for the Department of the Attorney General as a deputy attorney general.
Kaneshiro was first elected as prosecuting attorney for the city in 1988. During his tenure, he created a sexual assault and domestic violence division for the office. Kaneshiro also lobbied the Hawaii State Legislature to pass money-laundering laws as well as laws granting prosecutors the ability to seize assets from drug traffickers.
He was elected to a second term in 1993 and retired as Honolulu prosecutor in 1996.
During his time as prosecutor, Kaneshiro successfully handled the international extradition of a Japanese citizen who was tried for a double-murder in Hawaii. It was the first example of a Japanese national to be extradited.
After retiring from his position, Kaneshiro worked for a while in private practice and was then appointed as the Director of Public Safety for Hawaii. He held the position from 1997 to 1998.
In 2004, Kaneshiro again vied for the position of Honolulu City Prosecutor. He was the lone opponent against the incumbent, Peter Carlisle. Carlisle won the election – securing an unprecedented third term – by taking 58 percent of the vote compared to Kaneshiro’s 34 percent.
On the campaign trail, Kaneshiro said drugs, sexual assault, domestic violence, finance and computer fraud, elder abuse, juvenile crime, cruelty to animals and environmental crime would be his focus, according to his campaign website.