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Honolulu Prosecutor Candidate Tae Kim: Educate, Listen, Then 'Tackle Specific Issues'

Tae Kim

Honolulu voters get to choose a new prosecutor this year. HPR will be profiling the major candidates running for the office. Today, a look at attorney Tae Kim.

Tae Kim has been practicing criminal law for nearly 30 years and is currently a criminal defense lawyer. 

Kim says he's running for city prosecutor because he wants to change the "status quo." He believes one of the biggest challenges the prosecutor's office faces is transparency.

"The way to trust the prosecutor's office is for the public to get involved," he said. "And my biggest challenge, I'd like to establish a community section to the prosecutor's office."

Kim says that no one from the Honolulu prosecutor's office attends any of the 33 neighborhood board meetings. He says it's the only elected office that isn't represented in the monthly meetings. Kim believes this doesn't hold the office accountable -- and results in the public being uninformed of what is happening within their communities.

"Nobody educates the public about [the] workings of the criminal justice system," he said. "It's not just the law enforcement of police and the prosecutor, but [the] judiciary needs to be taken into account, and held accountable for their actions, indiscretions, unfair sentencing. If people are more informed, they would know the importance of it."

If elected, he says he will personally attend as many monthly board meetings as possible -- or assign a deputy prosecutor to attend and discuss the office's efforts and crimes in the community.

Kim says it will take time to attend meetings and educate residents. But he says this will have long-term benefits in how the office operates and addresses community concerns.

"What I would hope to achieve within the first 100 days of being in the office is actively engaging with the people, informing them of [the] criminal justice system," he said. 

"Number one, they need to know the workings of [the] criminal justice system. People in both parties involved. Number two, listen to their concerns. And then, number three, we can tackle specific issues."

Kim says he's willing to discuss and find solutions, with community guidance, on any topic residents believe needs to be fixed, including treatment options, failed convictions, or a lack of assistance programs.

Kim's other priorties would be to create a culture within the prosecutor's office of responsibility and accountability. 

"My thought is responsible behavior is a choice, you can choose to be responsible or not, but accountability is not a choice," Kim said. "As a prosecutor, everyone is going to be held accountable -- starting with me. My accountability starts with engaging and telling [residents] that I'm an open book, I have no closed door.

"Come talk to me, come listen to what I have to say. If you have complaints with how things are operated by me or anybody in my office, I'm here for it."

He also believes the department needs to improve its relationship with other law enforcement agencies, saying there isn't coordination with them. He pointed to one area of the law in which he says the justice system falls short -- driving under the influence.

"I speak to people that 99% of their work is DUIs. And when I asked them what their success rate is, these are defense attorneys representing DUI cases, they said 90%," he said. 

"How can that be? Something's wrong. There's no accountability with the amount of resources, advertisement, police resource that we have to prevent drunk driving, to say that nearly 90% of all DUIs don't get a conviction?"

Another priority for Kim is to have the prosecutor's office address antiquated laws and rules, specifically those that impede or prevent accountability. He says he would create a special section in the department to challenge "the establishment."

"The only way to do [this] is informing the public of all these things about term limits, and political favors, and people wanting to keep it within their own network," Kim said. "But I'm not going to do it alone. I'm going to get the people involved.

"Because the last thing 'the establishment' wants is to lose their position, lose their votes. So when we have people, an uprising so to speak, then the demand changes."

He believes these efforts will help the office regain the public's trust, and create change within the justice system.

To read more about the candidates running for city prosecuting attorney, go to HPR's candidate page.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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