Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
1. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your office? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney is regaining the public trust. From the Kealoha scandal to continuing federal investigations to the national debate concerning the motivations of law enforcement, generally; the next prosecutor will need to dedicate him or herself to the establishment of an office that champions transparency, accountability, competence and integrity.
I would first identify and distribute my expectations to all deputies and staff. It will be immediately understood that at every stage of the criminal process, from charge to trial to sentence, that the role of the prosecutor is to perform her duties with an unrelenting commitment to exposing truth and obtaining justice.
Ours will not be a culture where we think in terms of wins and losses, but only whether we have done what is right.
Separate from the internal expectations that will be set and adhered to, I will seek out an independent third party to audit the prosecutor’s office to evaluate case dispositions, plea negotiations, prosecutorial resources and prior administrative conduct. The findings and recommendations will be released. We need to outturn the pockets of the prosecutor’s office, lay the situation bare, and account for any failures of the past.
Other priorities will include the establishment of a Conviction Integrity Unit to review past convictions and potentially exonerating evidence.
If elected, I will restructure the office to focus the bulk of our talent and resources on serious crimes (including, for example, homicides, robberies, burglaries, identity theft, domestic violence and sexual assaults) and career criminals.
2. The Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office has been the subject of a federal corruption probe. What would you do to restore public confidence in the office?
Again, establishing an office culture that will value and reward integrity is the first step toward reconciling the perception of the office within the community. In addition to this, we need to perform an audit and implement policies that mandate transparency as to decision-making and case dispositions.
I will also work collaboratively with federal agencies in any continuing investigations, and provide whatever access is needed to ensure the removal of residual rot, if any.
3. Because of COVID-19, many of Hawaii’s inmates were released so as to reduce the risk of infection. Where do you stand on this issue?
I supported the temporary release of eligible offenders if they were evaluated on a case-by-case basis. To be eligible, offenders should have been those that were held on misdemeanor offenses, or lower, had no record of violence, and would be able to establish that they had a place to live for the duration of their release.
Moreover, these offenders should have been required to maintain regular contact with Judiciary personnel and be willing to waive any arguments that their case should be dismissed due to any delay in their prosecution.
4. The recent police killings of black people in police custody have caused widespread racial unrest throughout the country. What would you do to strengthen police accountability in Hawaii, including the role the prosecutor’s office plays in police use-of-force cases?
We have all seen the devastating consequences of excessive police force. Those that wear the badge and breach their sworn duty to protect members of the public must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
This is because the damage is done on both a human and an institutional level. By violating their duties, an officer erodes public confidence in every member of the police department who, by and large, are upstanding and courageous. This cannot be tolerated and so the most significant consequences are generally warranted.
5. Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. What would you do to address racism and discriminatory treatment in law enforcement?
While irrefutable that Native Hawaiians represent a disproportionate number of the jail and prison population, I don’t believe that reality, on its face, evidences racism or disparate treatment by law enforcement in practice.
In other words – certainly, as a general rule – I don’t think that police are targeting Native Hawaiians because of their race, or that prosecutors are charging Native Hawaiians because of their race, or that judges are sentencing Native Hawaiians because of their race. Nonetheless, the reality remains and there is an understandable desire to identify the reason for why a particular population is overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
In truth, I don’t have that answer. I frankly doubt that anybody being honest with the reader has that answer. But I suspect the reasons are varied and concern, at least in part, lack of access to quality schools, employment opportunities and affordable housing.
That kind of environment produces desperation, and, where there is desperation, there will be crime. So, each of us, if interested in seeing our neighbors thrive, should seek to elect lawmakers committed to efforts that might remedy these (and other) problems.
Beyond that, we should also individually support community organizations and other efforts that aim to provide equality of opportunity.
If elected, I can promise that I would administer the affairs of the prosecutor’s office in a manner that is blind to any factor that does not directly relate to whether a defendant committed a crime with the requisite intent.
6. Jails and prisons are overcrowded and Hawaii’s correctional facilities are in poor physical condition. What would you do to reduce overcrowding in the jails and prisons?
I support the expansion of diversion and treatment programs for non-violent offenders and for those suffering from mental health concerns. I support the minimization of cash bail in favor of risk assessments. I will require deputies to charge all cases with sober restraint. And I will support the transition of the prison system from the strictly punitive to the therapeutic.
These measures, individually and collectively, will assist both in reducing the prison and jail population while also making our community safer.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I try to be as available as possible and readily respond to both e-mail and phone calls. In addition, I will commit to monthly community forums wherein I will open myself up to any and all questions from members of the public or press.
8. Gov. David Ige suspended the state laws on public records and open meetings because of COVID-19. Do you think that was appropriate? What will you do to ensure your agency’s business is conducted as openly as possible?
I don’t agree with any practice that limits transparency. If elected, I will order an audit of the office and publish the results. I will also work to produce annual reports of charged cases and dispositions. Finally, I will make myself as available as possible to members of the public and to the media.
9. What other issue would you like to address or make the voters aware of?
There are a number of candidates in this race, and I have found each to be intelligent, thoughtful and earnest in their desire to better the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney. With that said, there are stark differences in philosophies and backgrounds.
To the extent possible, I would ask that when making your evaluation of a particular candidate, take into account the unique nature of the prosecutor’s office. While an elected position, a prosecuting attorney must have an even temperament. He or she must be unswayed by the political flavor of the month and be grounded entirely by their commitment to justice and victims. Because, at the end of the day, that is the job. And that is what matters.