Former Hawaii judge Steve Alm prevailed in a field of seven candidates running for Honolulu prosecutor in Saturday’s primary.

Alm, who has also worked as a city prosecutor and U.S. attorney, had 35% of the vote, according to results released by the state Elections Office Sunday morning.

Former deputy prosecutor Megan Kau was next with 21.2% followed by public defender Jacquie Esser with 17%.

Steve Alm has been the frontrunner since he announced his campaign for Honolulu prosecutor in November. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2019

Kau will face off against Alm in the Nov. 3 general election. A majority of the primary vote is needed for a candidate to win the race outright.

“Going forward in this campaign, it’s going to be a lot of work,” said Kau. “Steve has been around for 30 some years and it’s hard to compete with that.”

She continued: “But people want change. Everywhere I go I hear that. (Mayoral candidate) Keith Amemiya sees the same thing. They don’t want the old boy network, and I am definitely not the old boy network.”

Dwight Nadamoto, the acting prosecutor, has 5.7% of the vote, followed by former deputy prosecuting attorney RJ Brown (4.5%), criminal defense attorney Tae Kim (3.2%) and attorney Anosh Yaqoob (0.6%).

Alm said he was very pleased with the results of the first returns.

“I am honored and gratified by what we have so far,” he said. “I think the voters have recognized that this race is about restoring trust to the prosecutor’s office. And I think they are looking at who has the experience and the integrity to clean up the office and restore trust there, and who has trained and led other prosecutors and has a proven record of reducing crime.”

Megan Kau, candidate Honolulu Prosecutor 2020.
Megan Kau, candidate for Honolulu Prosecutor 2020. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The winner of the Honolulu prosecutor’s race will succeed Keith Kaneshiro, who has been on leave for over a year. He is a target in a federal corruption probe that has resulted in convictions of the former Honolulu police chief and the chief’s wife, a former deputy prosecutor in Kaneshiro’s office.

Alm, a former Circuit Court judge best known for launching a program to reduce probation violations by drug offenders and others at high risk of recidivism, raised and spent the most in the primary election.

He is described as being both progressive and practical when it comes to the criminal justice system. Alm says he wants to reduce incarceration rates through probation.

Jacquie Esser Honolulu Prosecutor candidate 2020.
Jacquie Esser. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Esser has stressed increasing referrals for low-level offenders to social services, which involves making major structural changes to the office of city prosecutor.

Kau, a criminal defense attorney, abides by the current criminal justice system, while Nadamoto is a “tough on crime” career prosecutor who worked closely with Kaneshiro.

The term of the prosecutor is four years, and there are no term limits.

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