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.

Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro leaves District Court.
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/2017

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:

What stories will you help make possible?

Since 2010, Civil Beat’s reporting has painted a more complete picture of Hawaii — stories that you won’t find anywhere else.

Your donation, however big or small, will ensure that Civil Beat has the resources to provide you with thorough, unbiased reporting on the issues that matter most to Hawaii. We can’t do this without you.


About the Author