Judge sends tough message to Chinatown sex solicitors
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
Thirteen men, including a banker and a veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, showed up in court yesterday to ask for a chance to dismiss their petty misdemeanor cases of soliciting sex from undercover police officers in Chinatown last month.
But Honolulu District Judge Russell Blair granted the request of only two of the 13 first-time criminal offenders, indicating that the location of the crime was more important than a previous clean record.
"This is difficult for me because I know I'm inflicting grave, grave consequences on some individuals," Blair said.
The men wanted the judge to grant them a deferral of their guilty pleas to the prostitution charge. If granted, and they abide by conditions similar to probation, their cases would later be dropped.
Noting that Hawai'i law factors recidivism, the "ends of justice" and "welfare of society" into any consideration for granting the requests, Blair acknowledged that his decisions were based on the third criteria, agreeing with the argument presented by city Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jason Hoon Kim.
Kim is the prosecutor and coordinator for the "Weed and Seed" program for the Chinatown area.
Under the program financed by a grant from the Justice Department and administered through the state attorney general's office, authorities try to rid the area of crime and provide community programs.
Kim said prostitution is not a "victimless crime" because in the case of the "Weed and Seed"-protected Chinatown area, "offenders leave the residents of the victimized neighborhoods to live with the blight, disorder, decreased property values and increased level of overall crime caused by open solicitation of prostitution on their streets."
Kim added that punishing customers is the most effective way to control demand.
During the court session, defense lawyers argued in favor of the deferral requests.
Roland Nip argued that none of his three clients stole public money, yet recently-retired Honolulu police officer James Kawakami was granted a deferral of his guilty plea by a Circuit Court judge to felony first- and second-degree theft charges.
Blair noted, "Frankly, I was stunned. I'm not going to second guess (the decision) but the distinction I can make beyond legislative history is the plain meaning of the statute that tells the court to address the welfare of society. It's not that I'm unsympathetic."
Blair granted deferral requests for a 19-year-old man and a father of seven children.
The younger man's age factored into his consideration, Blair said. The other man, meanwhile, told the court that he is "dealing with family issues" and was looking for his runaway daughter.
Both must pay a fine of $600 and perform 100 hours of community service within the "Weed and Seed" area before their cases are dismissed.
The 11 are scheduled to be sentenced May 15. The petty misdemeanor charge carries a mandatory $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.