There’s a big job opening in Honolulu. Here are the specs:
Wanted: prosecuting attorney.
Start date: early January 2021.
Salary: $176,687 annually.
Qualifications: for starters, an attorney licensed to practice and in good standing before the Hawaii Supreme Court (read more here).
Bonus qualification: have absolutely no involvement with Katherine Kealoha.
Because of recent events (see: Kealoha, Louis and Katherine), the race for city prosecutor in 2020 may be as consequential as the one for mayor. (By law, Kirk Caldwell cannot run for that office again.)
Candidates who have already announced include Peter Carlisle, a former city prosecutor who also served as mayor, and RJ Brown, a former deputy prosecuting attorney who once worked for Civil Beat.
Steve Alm, a former Oahu 1st Circuit Court judge, has been encouraged to run. And Loretta Sheehan, another former deputy prosecuting attorney who now chairs the Honolulu Police Commission, has received similar entreaties.
Because of the convictions of the Kealohas (Louis is a former Honolulu police chief and Katherine is a former deputy prosecutor) and four other officers on charges stemming from the corruption and conspiracy case — two at trial, two pleaded guilty — there will be intense scrutiny of the candidates who will argue that they are best to clean a messy house. And there will be huge expectations for the successful candidate to deliver.
Alm, who will move back to Hawaii from the mainland later this month, told me this week, “A number of people have raised the idea with me, and I am giving it serious consideration.”
Sheehan said via email that she is considering it, too, “as I care very much for that office and for its work.” But she also says she likes the work she is doing for Davis Levin Livingston.
“I love my clients and I love my firm,” she added.
‘Integrity. Leadership. Change.’
Carlisle and Brown confirm they are in the hunt, and a big reason for both is they are disgusted by what has happened under Keith Kaneshiro, the current city prosecutor who has been on paid leave since early March after receiving a target letter in a federal criminal investigation related to the Kealoha trials.
Katherine Kealoha, as many know, was Kaneshiro’s former deputy. Another deputy prosecutor, Chasid Sapolu, has been on paid leave since mid-December for the same reasons as Kaneshiro.
“I am running largely because the office has been run so horrifically poorly under the current prosecutor, a guy who goes by the name of Kaneshiro,” said Carlisle, who has the best name recognition in the emerging field. “It’s time to get the place back on track.”
Carlisle, who served as prosecutor from 1996 to 2010, said integrity and ethics will be top of mind for voters.
“I think the corruption that has gone on is going to be the No. 1 issue, and integrity is something that is going to have to be considered by anyone considering voting,” he said.
Brown, whose campaign website features these words on its homepage — “Integrity. Leadership. Change.” — said that he would push for transparency and criminal justice reform should he be elected prosecutor.
“In addition to that, I would call for the passing of the torch,” he said. “There have been two guys that have run that office for three decades. There are new ideas that need to be brought into the prosecutor’s office, a different way of handling things.”
Kaneshiro is a former deputy prosecutor who held the top job from 1988 to 1996. He was elected again in 2010. The position has no term limits.
Others mentioned as possible candidates for the nonpartisan election include Dwight Nadamoto, the acting prosecutor, and senior deputy prosecuting attorney Christopher Van Marter.
Should Kaneshiro not be indicted, it’s possible he could try to keep the gig. He crushed his only opponent in 2016, the unknown Anosh Yaqoob, 69% to 18%.
As of December, Kaneshiro reported having $41,000 in his campaign coffers.