Prosecutors: Elect them, or appoint them?

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Still no word if the state Supreme Court will take action on a motion to have Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro suspended.

While Kaneshiro has not been accused of a crime, Attorney General Clare Connors says the fact that he’s received a target letter from federal investigators presents a conflict of interest.

Kaneshiro’s attorney says his client will not step away, saying there is no evidence the prosecutor has done anything wrong.
     
It wasn’t that long ago that Honolulu’s prosecutor was an appointed position.

Honolulu’s top prosecutor has been elected since 1980. Before that it was a position appointed by the mayor, which became a lightning rod for accusations of corruption at worst — and cronyism, at a minimum.

Political analyst John Hart says election-versus-appointment doesn’t seem to be the basis of the current trouble at the prosecutor’s office.

“So you now have the state’s attorney general and the Honolulu police chief, not wanting to work with the prosecuting attorney. Houston, we have a problem.”

Tough-on-crime Charles Marsland was Oahu’s first elected prosecutor. He was succeeded by Keith Kaneshiro, then Peter Carlisle, who served four terms. Kaneshiro got the job back and has had the post for nine years.

Despite the current controversy, Carlisle strongly supports election of prosecuting attorneys.

“I believe that they answer directly to the people. I think that’s better than having people who are not prosecutors, or excuse me who are not elected officials, taking on that responsibility.”

Hart says, “at this point in time, most prosecuting attorneys are elected. A vast majority of them are, so appointing is kind of a thing of the past.”

It turns out that Honolulu was late to the party in not electing its top prosecutor until 1980.

The office has been elective in Hawaii County since 1968. Current prosecutor Mitch Roth was first elected in 2012.

Kauai County — 1973. Justin Kollar has held the office since 2012.

Maui is the only county with an appointed prosecuting attorney. John D. Kim has served the county as a legal officer for three decades. He began his current role in 2011 and was appointed to continue by Mayor Michael Victorino.

An initial council vote last month opposed his confirmation. The council will vote again on Friday.

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