Steve Alm, a former prosecutor, retired judge and probation advocate, is running to head the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

The office is currently “in crisis,” Alm said during a campaign kickoff at the Hawaii Capitol on Thursday.

“This campaign is about restoring trust to the prosecutor’s office,” Alm said, surrounded by supporters. “It has lost the faith and confidence of the people of Hawaii.”

Steve Alm joins a race with a key endorsement from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, headed by Malcolm Lutu, pictured right of Alm. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2019

Alm is running to head an office rocked by scandal associated with Katherine Kealoha, a former deputy prosecutor now behind bars for her central role in Honolulu’s biggest public corruption case.

Earlier this year, she and her husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, were found guilty by a jury for conspiracy and obstruction of justice after using city resources to frame Katherine’s uncle for stealing her mailbox.

Last month, Katherine Kealoha pleaded guilty to three additional federal felonies in two separate criminal cases involving, among other things, identity theft and using her position in the prosecutor’s office to aid her brother’s alleged drug trafficking activities.

The Kealohas and their co-conspirators in the police department will all be sentenced in March.

Elected Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro has been on paid leave since March after he received an FBI target letter amid the Kealoha investigation.

It’s a mess that Alm says he’s qualified to clean up.

“This is no time for on-the-job training,” he said. “There is too much at stake.”

Born in Honolulu, Alm, 66, was hired by the prosecutor’s office in 1985, where he headed the District and Family Court Division and supervised 31 prosecutors.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed him to be the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii, a role in which he prosecuted corruption, drug trafficking and organized crime. He was appointed to the First Circuit Court of Honolulu in 2001.

Former Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Steve Alm hugs a supporter alongside his wife Haunani Ho Alm during his campaign kickoff on Thursday. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2019

Alm is the founder of HOPE Probation, which stands for Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement.

The program uses a tough-love approach to supervising drug offenders and others at high risk of recidivism and cracks down hard on folks who violate the terms of their probation. One study of the nationally recognized program found offenders were 72 percent less likely to test positive for drugs and 61 percent less likely to miss appointments with probation officers.

“We’ve got to put the violent and dangerous, the ones who won’t stop stealing, in prison,” he said, but noted those are in the minority. “The majority can and should be placed on probation.”

Several others have already announced their 2020 bids for prosecutor: defense attorney Megan Kau, deputy public defender Jacquelyn “Jacquie” Esser, Honolulu attorney Tae Kim and former deputy prosecuting attorney RJ Brown.

On Wednesday, Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto said during an announcement about a federal subpoena he received that he is also considering a run for the seat.

Of the current candidates, Alm has the most name recognition of the pack and has the backing of the Honolulu police union and Police Commission Chair Loretta Sheehan.

“He is our law enforcer,” SHOPO President Malcolm Lutu said at Alm’s campaign kickoff. “He’s never defended the criminal element we deal with every day.”

Alm said he’s proud to have the support of the police department.

“They know I’ve got the experience, they know I’ve got the determination, and they know I’ve got the guts to make the hard decisions and get things done,” he said.

“As Honolulu prosecutor, I will work to restore trust in that office, end the corruption and create a culture of integrity, and train the deputy prosecutors to be ethical and effective trial attorneys.”

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