The federal judge presiding over the organized crime and murder case says 20 jurors, including alternates, will be needed to hear the evidence.

Editor’s note: This article was reprinted with permission from Ian Lind’s blog,

The trial of Michael Miske, former owner of Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control, M Nightclub, and other businesses, along with five remaining co-defendants, is set to begin in Honolulu’s Federal District Court in three months.

But the process that will make possible the eventual seating a jury is well underway.

The Process

During a hearing in March, Judge Derrick Watson said the court would be mailing out “ability to serve” questionnaires to about 2,000 prospective jurors, and that was done on Aug. 4. Watson said the court usually has a 80% response rate, which would yield 1,600 completed questionnaires, with other factors cutting that down to about 750 with the ability to serve.

Trial for Mike Miske and several remaining co-defendants in the massive murder and organized crime case is scheduled to begin in January. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015)

This remaining group were sent a second, more substantive and detailed questionnaire designed to assure the defendants an impartial and unbiased jury made up of individuals who are willing to decide guilt or innocence based only on the evidence.

This second questionnaire had been in the works for some time.

Watson laid out a schedule back in April and stuck to it, except that he moved a key deadline forward by a couple of weeks for attorneys on both sides to meet and attempt to agree on addition, deletions, or other amendments to an initial draft. A version was submitted that included questions agreed to by the attorneys for the remaining defendants and by prosecutors. It also included questions advocated by either side although opposed by the other.

Following a hearing on Aug. 31 to sort out the differences, a final version of the questionnaire was to be sent to available prospective jurors by Sept. 7.

A series of six hearings for attorneys and the court to review the completed questionnaires was announced on Thursday. The first is scheduled on Oct. 13, and the last on Nov. 15. Those individuals who are not eliminated for cause during these hearings will make up the jury pool.

Watson said during that March hearing that a jury will eventually need about 20 people, including alternates, and he appeared confident that being able to find these 20 qualified jurors in Hawaii would be possible.

Click here to read more of Ian Lind’s coverage of the Miske case.

The Substantive Questionnaire

A copy of the final jury questionnaire was filed in court on Sept. 25.

The first section solicits demographic and other background information, including age, place of birth, length of residence in Hawaii, education, marital and employment status, and prior military service, if any.

There’s a question asking to identify social media sites visited at least twice a week. There are questions about English language proficiency, health conditions that would affect jury service, moral or other beliefs that would prevent deciding whether a person is guilty or not.

The next section asks about prior exposure to or knowledge of the Miske case, beginning with a general question asking if they are “familiar” with a criminal case against Mike Miske and others. It then lists the defendants and asks whether the prospective juror as heard or read about each one, with a yes or no answer requested.

If yes, a list of local media is presented with instructions to check off each that the respondent relied on, including local television stations, the Star-Advertiser, other Hawaii newspapers, Civil Beat, podcasts (which podcasts?), social media (which social media?), etc.

It asks for the amount of knowledge about the case, from “none” to “a lot.”

Those who say they are familiar with the case are asked to write out a description of what they have heard or know, and then are asked if they have formed an opinion regarding guilt or innocence of any of the defendants.

Mike Miske is a former nightclub owner and local businessman accused of running a violent criminal enterprise in Hawaii. (Hawaii News Now/2020)

Then comes a key question.

If you have formed any opinions regarding the guilt or innocence of any of
the defendants in this case, can you nonetheless set those opinions aside and
render a verdict based only on the evidence presented in court? Yes, No, or Unsure?

Nine of Miske’s businesses are then listed. “Do you have any experience with any of the following companies? If so, was your experience a positive or negative one?”

A series of similar questions about familiarity with the case of “the missing person Jonathan Fraser.”

A list of attorneys and potential witnesses in the case follows, then the following instruction:

If you have formed any opinions regarding the guilt or innocence of any of
the defendants in this case, can you nonetheless set those opinions aside and
render a verdict based only on the evidence presented in court?

There is a section of questions about experience with jury service, courts, and the law. Have you ever served on a jury? Have you, a close family member or friend, ever been accused, charged, or convicted of any crime other than a traffic offense? Have you or anyone close to you been the victim of a crime? If so, state whether that experience “would that interfere with your ability to be a fair and impartial juror.”

The final questions have to do with views of the law.

“Would you have any difficulty following the court’s instructions on federal law?”

I wonder if this next question is aimed at “sovereignty” views? It asks:

Do you, or a close family member or friend, hold any belief that the United States has no authority over its citizens such that you could not sit as a fair and impartial juror in this case?

There are questions about views towards drug laws, drug legalization, experience with substance abuse. Views towards “the honesty, trustworthiness, or reliability” of confidential informants or cooperating witnesses? Do you currently own or possess a firearm?

Finally three questions, stressing similar points that must be part of every jury questionnaire as they are basic to jury duty.

The court will instruct you that your verdict must not be based on sympathy,
passion, or prejudice, but only on the evidence in this case. Will you be able to follow that instruction?

Irrespective of your personal feelings about any issue that may arise in this case, will you follow the law as the Court gives it to you during this case?

Are you willing to decide this case based upon the evidence presented and the applicable law?

There are 49 questions overall, including a final catch-all “is there anything else not previously mentioned” that the judge and attorneys should know?

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About the Author

  • Ian Lind
    Ian Lind is an award-winning investigative reporter and columnist who has been blogging daily for more than 20 years. He has also worked as a newsletter publisher, public interest advocate and lobbyist for Common Cause in Hawaii, peace educator, and legislative staffer. Lind is a lifelong resident of the islands. Read his blog here. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.