What’s next if prosecutor goes on leave, quits or gets ousted

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Always Investigating delved into what happens with leadership of the prosecutor’s office if the top boss takes leave or is forced out. It’s not just today’s attorney general move to force suspension that’s putting pressure on. There’s a separate impeachment petition, and the federal investigation that got those balls rolling.

The county charter is specific on succession if a prosecutor is to quit or is ousted, but it depends on when. If it happens with less than a year left on a term, the first deputy acts as a prosecutor. But if that deputy doesn’t qualify, the mayor with council approval appoints someone else within 30 days of vacancy.

If there’s more than a year left on a prosecutor’s elected term, the county council calls for a special election within 10 days, and that vote has to happen within 120 days of the vacancy.

Kaneshiro was re-elected to his latest four-year term in 2016.

Under just a suspension, the first deputy would run things day to day. Former First Deputy Chasid Sapolu already took leave when Sapolu got a subject letter — not a target letter — from the feds. Currently the first deputy is Dwight Nadamoto.

Always Investigating asked Mayor Kirk Caldwell what would he prefer Kaneshiro do? Kaneshiro taking leave until the matters are resolved is the mayor’s top choice, citing corporation counsel Donna Leong taking leave after she got a target letter from the feds in connection to the Kealoha investigation last month.

“I think the option that we used at the City & County of Honolulu is the one that I prefer to see,” Caldwell told Always Investigating. “I hope all of this is resolved as quickly as possibly for everyone’s sake. I think the attorney general in taking the action she did, this extraordinary writ, is partly to do exactly that. Bringing resolution and resolving all of these issues I think is in the best interest not only of the City & County of Honolulu, but the state of Hawaii.”

The mayor does not have the authority to make Kaneshiro step aside, since the prosecutor job is separately elected and independent of the mayor’s office.

Meanwhile, a county council vote to had been scheduled for Wednesday to have taxpayers foot bills of up to $75,000 for private attorney William McCorriston to defend Kaneshiro on the impeachment petition. Honolulu City Council Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi told Always Investigating that most were likely to vote yes or “with reservations,” on advice of corporation counsel.

Always Investigating asked, what are the reservations, and why not vote no?

“Because we were told that the city is responsible, I guess, for paying him,” Kobayashi said. Asked why, she responded, “I don’t know, because Kaneshiro was carrying out his duties as prosecutor. We were told by the corporation counsel that we should be paying for the private attorney.”

Now that state Attorney General Clare Connors is asking the Hawaii Supreme Court to force suspension, Kobayashi said, “that puts another wrinkle in this whole thing. I would like more information before the vote is taken.”

Asked is this because why vote to approve spending if someone may be suspended?

“Exactly,” Kobayahi said. “I think we will go into executive session and get information that is needed before casting a vote.”

Later Tuesday, the scheduled Wednesday vote on that $75,000 tab to pay Kaneshiro’s attorney was marked “canceled” on the council agenda.

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