The Hawaii Attorney General has asked the state Supreme Court to immediately suspend Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro.
Kaneshiro has been under scrutiny by federal prosecutors as part of a wide-ranging investigation into alleged corruption involving the police and prosecutors. The prosecutor’s attorney, Bill McCorriston, confirmed on Tuesday that Kaneshiro has received a “target letter” naming him as a potential defendant in the federal investigation.
Attorney General Clare Connors announced the extraordinary request Tuesday morning followed by a news conference late Tuesday morning. Connors noted the extraordinary nature of a situation where Honolulu’s top attorney who oversees all criminal cases is himself under a cloud.
“This is unprecedented,” she said. “This is an extraordinary situation.”
Connors urged Kaneshiro to step aside and take a leave of absence, possibly with pay, while the pending matters are resolved.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro leaves the federal court in downtown Honolulu in 2017. Federal investigators are scrutinizing him as part of an investigation into corruption in local law enforcement.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Connors’ news conference set off a flurry of communications that ultimately provided little insight into the prosecutor’s next steps. Brooks Baehr, communications director for the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, released a terse statement saying, “Mr. Kaneshiro is in the process of reviewing the petition and has nothing more to say at this time.”
Later, McCorriston held a news conference saying there’s no dysfunction in the prosecutor’s office and Kaneshiro deserves a presumption of innocence.
Kaneshiro is caught up in a years-long federal investigation into public corruption and abuse of power that has already resulted in the indictment of former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine, who is a former deputy prosecutor. Five Honolulu police officers have been indicted or charged and two have already pleaded guilty.
“In this case, we believe it does cause serious harm to allow this conflict to continue. We believe it harms the public.” — Hawaii Attorney General Claire Connors
The petition focuses on the questions surrounding Honolulu’s top prosecutor. It asserts Kaneshiro has an inherent conflict of interest between his role as a potential defendant and prosecutor in charge of enforcing the law. If removed, under the Honolulu City Charter, Kaneshiro would be replaced by the first deputy prosecuting attorney, Dwight Nadamoto.
“Recently, it was reported that Kaneshiro is the target of a federal criminal investigation into conduct he engaged in while serving in public office as the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney,” the petition says.
“His purported status as a target of a federal criminal investigation related to his conduct as the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney creates a ‘concurrent conflict of interest’ that requires immediate resolution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Read the petition here:
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Support local journalism
Studies have shown that when local journalism disappears, government financing costs go up, fewer people run for public office, elected officials become less responsive to their constituents, and voter turnout decreases. Our small nonprofit newsroom works hard every day to present local news in a deep and transparent way, without fear or favor. We also rely on donations from readers like you to keep us afloat. The more support we receive; the stronger, more sustainable our journalism becomes; the more accountable we are to you. Please consider supporting our Honolulu Civil Beat with a tax-deductible gift.