“His ideas reduced drugs in Hawaii. As a judge, Duke Aiona built the Hawaii drug court,” states an ad sponsored by the Republican Governors Association posted on YouTube on August 4. “He authored the Hawaii Drug Control Plan.”

It seems there are two assertions here that are worth verifying. The first is whether or not Aiona built the drug court, meaning he played a significant role in its creation. The second is whether he wrote the Hawaii Drug Control Plan, and whether that’s significant.

The First Circuit’s Adult Drug Court program was put into effect in January 1996. Now, the state has family, juvenile and adult drug courts across the islands, according to an e-mail to Civil Beat from Marsha Kitagawa, director of public affairs for the Hawaii State Judiciary.

Former Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon founded the drug court program after former city prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro told him about the success of the Dade County, Florida drug court system, Kitagawa said.

Moon then formed a planning committee headed by then Judge Marie Milks. Members included representatives from the Judiciary, Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, Office of the Public Defender, Honolulu Police Department, The Department of Public Safety, Adult Probation Division of the First Circuit Court, Department of Heath, Department of the Attorney General, Hawaii Paroling Authority and a private drug and alcohol treatment provider.

While James “Duke” Aiona was not on the committee, he was a member of a smaller advisory group that was “organized from the larger interagency committee to articulate the details of the plan and its implementation,” according to a document provided by the Hawaii State Judiciary to Civil Beat. “Working with unified purpose, the advisory group developed new partnerships between criminal justice professionals, State officials, and treatment providers. This concurrence of the committee resulted in an extremely successful planning process.”

Aiona was appointed a state Family Court judge in 1990. In 1996, he became the first judge in the Hawaii Drug Court Program. On his website, he says he “spearheaded the innovative Hawaii Drug Court Program, becoming its first administrative judge and primary architect.”

Aiona retained his interest in the issue after he left the courts and became lieutenant governor. In January 2005, Aiona unveiled the “Hawaii Drug Control Plan.”

The plan outlines a three-pronged approach:

  1. To prevent illicit drug use and underage drinking before it starts.

  2. To provide a continuum of treatment options for illicit drug and underage alcohol users.

  3. To disrupt the distribution of illicit drugs by expanding law enforcement abilities and to enhance interagency and community cooperation and collaboration.

By addressing these three points, the plan “provides a clear direction and a coordinated and comprehensive approach” for other drug related efforts as well as drug control liaisons in Hawaii, Aiona stated in the 2006 Hawaii Drug Control Report. (There are five drug control liaisons throughout the islands, one for Kauai County, Maui County, Hawaii County, the City and County of Honolulu and one overseeing the entire state of Hawaii.)

But has the Hawaii Drug Control Plan had any impact?

“We feel any effort that educates the public about the dangers of drugs is going to have a positive impact on the community,” Douglas Chin, acting prosecuting attorney for Honolulu, told Civil Beat.

However, Chin said there was no formal study that shows the Hawaii Drug Control Plan has had a direct impact on the office of the prosecuting attorney.

Although the plan definitely came from Aiona, that doesn’t mean it became the policy of the state. The ad may have made the plan seem more important than it is. Five state representatives on the House Judiciary Committee who responded to Civil Beat questions about the drug plan said they knew little or nothing about the plan or didn’t answer our question.

As for the drug court, clearly Aiona was an instrumental figure as the court’s first judge and as a member of the advisory committee. What the ad didn’t make clear was the role of Moon, Kaneshiro and others, without whom there wouldn’t have been a drug court. The court was not Aiona’s idea. But when it came to implementation, as its first judge, Aiona was a central figure.

About the Author