Former Honolulu mayor and prosecutor Peter Carlisle wants to run for city prosecutor again, but according to the city charter, he doesn’t qualify. Now, he wants a judge to decide.

The Honolulu city charter says a candidate for Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney should be an attorney in good standing and who has been actively involved in criminal cases for at least three years within 10 years preceding the election.

Carlisle has not been actively involved in a criminal case in that time period. But he has served in the very seat he’s hoping to qualify for between 1996 and 2010.

The former prosecutor says he should qualify this time around because he’s writing a manual on how to try a murder without a body and because he’s been interviewed by the media numerous times.

Peter Carlisle gives press conference announces his run for mayor. 13 may 2016.
Former Honolulu prosecutor Peter Carlisle wants a court to rule he is qualified to run for the office in 2020. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“The best thing to happen is to have the best candidates possible capable of battling it out and may the best person win,” he said in an interview. “And not have silly technicalities get in the way.”

He filed a lawsuit in First Circuit Court asking a state judge to decide if he qualifies or not.

However, the city doesn’t think the court has authority over this matter. City attorneys want Carlisle’s complaint thrown out, saying candidates can’t even file their nomination papers until February 2020.

“It’s not a ripe case,” said Deputy Corporation Counsel Ernest Nomura.

Meanwhile, the city is not taking any position on whether Carlisle qualifies or not, he added.

Once the filing period begins, Carlisle, as well as other candidates, must “self-certify” as qualified and his paperwork will be reviewed by the city clerk’s office.

But Carlisle’s attorney, Megan Kau, said her client can’t do that.

“He cannot self-certify himself because he would be lying,” she said.

The city charter language is vague so a court will need to decide the issue eventually, Kau said, adding that it might as well happen now.

“It’s much safer to do it this way,” Kau said. “The city taking this position is a waste of time and resources.”

Colin Moore of University of Hawaii Manoa. 

The city charter is designed to weed out unqualified candidates, said Colin Moore, a political science professor and director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii.

“I think it wouldn’t be the spirit of the charter to disqualify someone with as much experience as Carlisle,” Moore said.

If Carlisle were disqualified, that could really change the political playing field, Moore said.

“Carlisle is probably the only name out there that everybody knows,” he said. “It’ll be a wide open race. I don’t think that race has been competitive for a while. Maybe ever.”

Moore pointed out that since the city prosecutor became an elected position in 1981, there have only been three people in it — Charles Marsland, Carlisle and Keith Kaneshiro.

Kaneshiro is the current Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney, although he’s been on paid leave since receiving a target letter in the ongoing federal corruption investigation that has already resulted in the conviction of the former Honolulu police chief, his former deputy prosecutor wife and five current or former Honolulu police officers.

Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro announces a 3rd possible trial for Christopher Deedy.
Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro is on paid leave as part of a federal criminal investigation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

Voters might be interested in a change of leadership in the prosecutor’s office, Moore said.

“There’s going to be intense interest in this race in a way there probably wouldn’t have been,” he added.

At least one other candidate — RJ Brown, a former deputy prosecutor — has formally launched his campaign for prosecutor. Others — Honolulu Police Commissioner Loretta Sheehan and Steve Alm, a former Hawaii judge — previously told Civil Beat they are considering running.

A hearing on the city’s motion to dismiss Carlisle’s complaint is scheduled for Oct. 9.

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