WASHINGTON — Hawaii U.S. Attorney Kenji Price, whose office has taken on some of the islands’ most high profile criminal cases in recent years, including the prosecution of alleged mobster Michael Miske, will be out of a job sooner than expected.

On Tuesday, Price announced in a press release that he will resign effective Sunday, which is one week before he was told to do so by President Joe Biden’s Justice Department.

Biden intends to replace nearly every U.S. attorney in the country, including Price, who was appointed by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

US Attorney District of Hawaii, Kenji Price leads press conference charging Alexander Yuk Ching Ma with espionage at the Federal Building. August 17, 2020
Hawaii U.S. Attorney Kenji Price’s office spearheaded a number of significant cases for Hawaii. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Such turnover is not surprising when a new administration takes over.

In 2017, for instance, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked 46 U.S. attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration, including Hawaii’s Florence Nakakuni, to resign so that Trump could appoint his own people.

“Serving as U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii — the chief federal law enforcement officer in the District — is a privilege that I will forever cherish,” Price said in a written statement in which he heaped praise upon his colleagues.

“I truly stand on the shoulders of giants, and look forward to hearing about the fantastic work that my office will continue to do in the months and years to come, working hand in glove with our state and local partners and the broader federal law enforcement community.”

Price took over as Hawaii’s acting U.S. attorney in 2018 after Nakakuni, who was appointed in 2009 by then President Barack Obama, retired in response to Sessions’ request for her resignation.

When Price was appointed he boasted an impressive resume.

Price grew up in Hawaii and was a decorated military veteran, having earned two bronze stars as a U.S. Army Ranger. He worked in New York as a federal prosecutor, taking on cases involving organized crime, public corruption and the Sinaloa drug cartel.

After moving back to Hawaii he worked for two of Hawaii’s best known private law firms, Carlsmith Ball and Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing.

Price additionally carried the requisite conservative bonafides the Trump administration was looking for. He was the president of the Hawaii chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative organization of lawyers that helped Trump select his judicial nominees, including his picks for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hawaii’s U.S. Attorney’s Office has spearheaded a number of high profile prosecutions and investigations during Price’s brief tenure.

When he first took over, the islands were still reeling from the indictment of retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his prosecutor wife, Katherine, who had been accused of using a secretive unit of intelligence officers to frame a family member. That investigation was led by a team of federal prosecutors from San Diego.

Price instead focused on other matters, including the city’s $10 billion rail project and a series of allegations involving Honolulu businessman Michael Miske, who now stands charged with running an elaborate, Mafia-style criminal enterprise that trafficked in drugs, kidnapping and murder.

His office has charged a wide range of defendants over the past two years, among them a former CIA agent accused of espionage, a Japanese vessel that was caught trafficking shark fins and a politically connected defense contractor who allegedly bilked the federal government out of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief aid.

Who will replace Price is now an open question as the Biden administration has yet to announce a nominee. Price has said, however, he does not expect his office’s ongoing investigations to be disturbed by the changeover.

As he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last week after the Justice Department asked for his resignation, “This train will continue to run forward and continue to do justice and hold people accountable who endanger our community.” 

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