Editor’s Note: Peter Carlisle was Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney from 1996 – 2010, and mayor from 2010-2012. We’ve also invited Keith Kaneshiro to write a response to this column. 

Since I was booted out as mayor to find new life as a partner in one of Hawaii’s oldest law firms I have been asked one question multiple times in a week and sometimes multiple times in a day.  “Are you going to be running for Prosecuting Attorney again?”

The answer is usually one of the following: No. Never. It is not going to happen. Not in this lifetime.

It is not that I do not respect, admire and think of what a privilege and genuine joy it was to work in that office both as a deputy and as the Prosecuting Attorney.  By the time I departed much had been accomplished.  The office was running like a well-oiled machine.  I was able to personally try cases due to the support of two outstanding First Deputies; former Family Court Judge Iwalani White and Douglas Chin whose gifted managerial skills were apparent when he became Managing Director of the City and County of Honolulu.

It was time for me to pass the baton to another.  I had hoped it would be Don Pacarro who knew the office well, was respected by the deputies and appreciated by the staff.  Unfortunately Don was not elected and Keith Kaneshiro was.

Keith Kaneshiro serious

Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro responds to a question during an editorial board meeting at Civil Beat’s Kaimuki office, Oct. 24, 2014.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

If somebody is considering the 2016 race for prosecutor the time to begin is now. Kaneshiro is an incumbent so he will inevitably have a core that supports him.  The same was true for Neil Abercrombie.  Kaneshiro also has supporters who have political experience and their own following.  The sooner a challenger starts talking to people, raising money and letting it known that they will be a contender the better their chances will be.

When Keith Kaneshiro ran against me in 2004 he was beaten by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.  Even Robert Reese, one of my severest critics and a recipient of the highest honor of the ACLU (frequently described by prosecutors as the American Criminal Liberties Union) described Kaneshiro’s crushing defeat as a “landslide.”  I am perfectly aware that the colossal margin was not solely because of my abilities but because of Kaneshiro’s shortcomings as well.

Taking a page from the book of Gen. Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf who told a room full of reporters:

“As for Saddam Hussein being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier.  Other than that, he is a great military man.”

As the Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro suffers the following:

Many of his administrative actions are nonsensical.

He practiced the disparagingly described “Friday Night Massacre.”  At the end of a work week he would assign a Deputy an entirely new caseload to begin the following Monday.   This is not remotely enough time to properly prepare for a calendar that could include trials.  The new prosecutor loses much of the work done by the prior prosecutor including the personal contact the initial prosecutor had with victims and their family, police officers, civilian witnesses, experts, and impressions of these individuals.  All of this needs to be done within 48 hours.  This is a sloppy hand off inviting a fumble.

He tolerates a deputy on his staff who suffered a prior DUI conviction and apparently until recently was promoting “raves.”

The definition of a rave includes: the difference between a rave and most common parties or nightclubs is the vast majority of people are on a very VERY large amount of drugs. In the late 1980s, the word “rave” was adopted to describe the subculture that grew out of the acid house movement. That a certain number of rave party attendees used “club drugs” such as MDMA, LSD, cocaine, amphetamines and, more recently, ketamine.

A competent administrator of any law enforcement agency would never hire such a person nor would they tolerate such behavior when discovered.

Apparently the deputy, Jon Riki Karamatsu, has given up on the rave business, or been asked to step aside, after news stories and criticism by myself and others. “As a result of (Carlisle’s) press release, I will no longer work on the safety, security, and permits for any major music events besides a couple nights of bon dances in August of each year,” he wrote in a Nov. 6 Facebook post.

And it’s not just me that’s thinking ahead to 2016. “Finally, on a side note,” Karamatsu wrote, “please don’t forget to vote in 2016 and beyond as they are not only attacking me, but Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith M. Kaneshiro, one of the most honest and straightforward elected officials I know. Your thousands of votes for my boss and my other elected official friends can and will make a difference.”

As for Kaneshiro performance as the elected prosecutor, he permitted a charge of murder against Christopher Deedy that was supported by probable cause but unlikely to result in a conviction requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  Lesser offenses should have been discussed and presented to the jury for consideration in the first two cases.  Any realistic evaluation of the case would include a high probability of conviction of a lesser offense and the possibility of acquittal.  No prosecutor should be blamed for prosecuting Deedy.  Christopher Deedy is on trial because of the actions of Christopher Deedy.

Finally, what I’ve heard about the office’s new case-tracking system (PbK) better not be true.  I’ve been informed it is cumbersome, not user-friendly, slow, some days breaks down or freezes multiple times throughout the day. I’m told it has replaced all the other case-tracking systems the office used to have.

Kaneshiro went to the City Council in 2012, got $350,000 for a case-tracking system.  Money expended is now is close to $1 million.  One computer expert was contract-hired to do ground-work and get the system ready; then a second computer expert was hired in 2013.  The system provided was so difficult and problematic that a third computer expert was hired in 2014; then a volunteer was added.

Almost one year after implementation, three experts and a volunteer, the system is so slow and so unreliable that many deputies cannot sit at their computers and wait, so they create the documents using old templates that are incredibly fast and reliable and just scan the documents into PbK when done.

The reason I say this better not be true is because it would be the second time Kaneshiro poured a bunch of money into a computer system that flops.  When I first walked into the door as the elected Prosecutor I discovered Kaneshiro had had been talked into purchasing an exceedingly expensive inadequate computer system that never did what it was supposed to do.  As the saying goes, garbage in garbage out.  With this system I was told you can go ahead and put as much garbage and whatever else you want in because nothing comes out.

It is not like Keith Kaneshiro isn’t sincere in his desire to protect the community from criminal activity.  He should be prosecuting gambling activity but doing it competently and correctly.  He did make the right decision in not trying the Deedy case himself.

As Prosecuting Attorney I felt it was necessary to lead from the front by personally trying cases.   I suppose there could be a desk jockey who is such a gifted administrator that they could be an excellent Prosecuting Attorney.  Keith Kaneshiro is not that person.  Personally I’m more likely to vote in a trial attorney who actually goes to trial.

This is why we should all hope that in 2016 a capable candidate for Prosecuting Attorney will run for that office and prevail.

Remember, the time to begin your campaign is now.

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