Honolulu’s vague impeachment law is about to get a workout as a petition to remove Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro is expected to be filed in court Tuesday.

A week ago, reports that federal investigators notified Kaneshiro that he is a target of their widening probe into local law enforcement corruption prompted a drive to impeach him. 

By Monday, the petition started by Tracy Yoshimura, a plaintiff in a pending federal lawsuit against Kaneshiro, had 851 signatures, enough to begin the impeachment process in court. Four years ago, Kaneshiro unsuccessfully tried to prosecute Yoshimura, a sweepstakes machine distributor, on illegal gambling charges. 

Yoshimura’s attorney, Keith Kiuchi, said he plans to file the change.org petition in 1st Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro announces a 3rd possible trial for Christopher Deedy.
Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has refused to confirm — or deny — that he received a target letter. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Meanwhile, Kaneshiro, told a Hawaii News Now reporter Monday that he had no plans to step down.

 “I was elected to serve four years,” he said.

Asked if remaining in office while he is a target of a federal investigation could make the prosecutor’s office less effective, he countered sharply: “Do you have any evidence it’s not effective? It’s effective.”

Kaneshiro declined to say whether he received a target letter. “I don’t discuss grand jury issues,” Kaneshiro said.

Exactly how the impeachment petition case will move forward after it is filed is unclear.

Revisions to the City Charter since 2002 – the last time Honolulu residents tried to impeach an elected official – have made what was a more straightforward process less so.

Back then, a petition was filed to remove then-City Councilman Rene Mansho. The petition was filed in the Hawaii Supreme Court, as specified by the  charter.

Ultimately, the case was dismissed after Mansho admitted she used campaign funds for personal expenses and resigned.

Today’s City Charter specifies only that 500 signatures are required to file a petition to oust a prosecuting attorney, that a hearing be held in a Hawaii court and that a prosecuting attorney can be impeached for “malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” 

But how to define those terms is anyone’s guess. No standard is mentioned.

How they will proceed I have no idea,” said Steve Levinson, a former Supreme Court justice. “You’d think impeachment was an important enough issue the government law would be more carefully worded.”

Last week, Kaneshiro’s chief deputy prosecutor, Chasid Sapolu, announced he would take a leave of absence after federal prosecutors notified him his actions were the “subject” of the ongoing federal investigation.

Kaneshiro’s target letter from federal investigators comes more than a year after former Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine Kealoha, a former assistant prosecutor, were indicted on corruption and bank fraud charges.

They will be tried on the corruption charges, along with five Honolulu Police Department officers, next spring. A separate bank fraud case is scheduled to begin next summer.

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