Honolulu Council Advances Measures Addressing Prosecuting Attorney Concerns

Jan 30, 2020

UPDATED: 1/30/2020, 1:20 p.m.

The Honolulu City Council is continuing efforts to address concerns about the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney following the departure of Keith Kaneshiro. The prosecutor, who is the subject of a federal investigation, has been on paid leave.

The council on Wednesday discussed two resolutions that would amend the city charter as it pertains to the department.

Resolution 19-330 calls for the department to become part of the executive branch. This would allow the mayor to appoint the prosecutor instead of having voters elect one.

Councilmember Tommy Waters says the recent controversies have highlighted a gap in the charter.

Specifically, the elected prosecutor can be on paid leave and allow an unelected appointee to take his or her place for an indefinite amount of time. Dwight Nadamoto is serving as acting prosecutor in Kaneshiro's absence.

"Having an appointment process for the prosecuting attorney, similar to the prosecutor of Maui County and the attorney general for the state, would allow for community input during the public hearing process," Waters said.

"If any concerns arise, however, about the prosecuting attorney's ability to fulfill their obligations then their removal could be achieved through a public hearing with additional public input."

Waters says the change would provide a check-and-balance for the office and restore public trust.

But testifiers said the proposal would not prevent public corruption from happening and that an appointed prosecutor would result in less transparency.

The council passed Resolution 19-330 on first reading. It will be discussed at the next meeting of the council's Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee.

Another resolution, 19-35, adopted by the Council would establish term limits for the prosecuting attorney -- if it remains an elected position. The prosecuting attorney serves a term of four years, but there is no limit on the number of terms a person can serve.

The resolution calls for the same term limits as apply to other city elected officials -- a maximum of two.

The measure cites the case of Kaneshiro, who will have served more than 18 years by the end of his current term. Kaneshiro has been on paid leave since last March. He gets over $170,000 a year.

Kaneshiro received a target letter from federal investigators as part of a corruption probe into former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.

With the council's approval, the term limit proposal now goes to voters who will decide in the next election if the city charter should be changed.