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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, September 6, 2004

Rivals in city prosecutor's race both vow to fight ice

 •  A close look at the candidates and where they stand

By Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Courts Writer

The Sept. 18 winner-take-all primary election for city prosecutor features two tough-on-crime candidates who say battling the crystal methamphetamine problem will be a top priority.

Incumbent Peter Carlisle and his predecessor, Keith Kaneshiro, are the only candidates in the nonpartisan race. Both are seeking their third four-year term in the city's only elected post not subject to term limits.

Both have ties to the city prosecutor's office dating back to the late 1970s, and both were deputy prosecutors at the same time. But the two aren't considered close associates, and neither was at the office when the other held the top position.

The candidates have similar general strategies in addressing crime, but their emphasis on what role the prosecutor should play provides some contrast for O'ahu residents when they go to the polls in less than two weeks.

Carlisle, 51, a high-profile, polished speaker, has handled eight major trials himself as prosecutor, including the conviction of mass murderer Byran Uyesugi for the 1999 Xerox shootings. Carlisle says handling cases personally shows leadership by example, and he plans to continue the practice, using the office as a springboard to get across his message in the war against crime.

"The whole idea is to be vocal, visible and verbal," he said.

Kaneshiro, 55, who handled one trial in his eight years as prosecutor before Carlisle took office in 1996, portrays himself as more of a consensus builder, which he considers essential to coordinating a response to the ice epidemic and other crime-related issues.

He cites endorsement of his candidacy by the police officers union as a prime example of why he is better suited to work cooperatively in the fight against crime.

"The law-enforcement community is not united," he said. "And in the fight against crime, they need to be united."

Drug problem

Both candidates say their campaigns will spend a maximum of about $100,000 to be chosen to head an office with an annual budget of about $14 million and a staff of about 250, including more than 100 deputy prosecutors. The office prosecutes tens of thousands of cases, from traffic violations to homicides, for O'ahu's 900,000 residents.

For many of those residents, the chief concern is how the prosecutor will deal with the ice problem, which has plagued the state for years and recently highlighted by community sign-waving campaigns, media exposure and legislative inquiries.

"I think in every community you talk to, the major concern is the drug problem, because it makes people feel unsafe," said Deedee Letts, president of the Ka'a'awa Community Association and chairwoman of the Ko'olauloa Neighborhood Board.

Both Carlisle and Kaneshiro say their approach would include prevention, treatment and enforcement, including removing from the streets habitual users who repeatedly commit crimes.

Carlisle advocates prevention, with neonatal care and healthy-start programs for kids; drug testing in the military, schools and businesses for purposes of treatment rather than punishment; the use of drug courts and other programs for low-level offenders; and imprisonment for chronic repeat offenders.

He says there also must be a community emphasis on personal responsibility. "In doing so, you would create an environment which would be less friendly to drug use," he says.

Kaneshiro emphasizes the need for cooperation, and a balance between treatment and enforcement; the prosecutor must be an advocate of both. For example, the prosecutor should have pushed Gov. Linda Lingle to release money appropriated by state lawmakers for drug treatment programs, Kaneshiro says.

The prosecutor also should look at innovative strategies, Kaneshiro said, citing his role in helping to establish the Drug Court program while in office. The court gives nonviolent defendants a chance to avoid prison if they complete drug treatment programs.

Amendments backed

Both candidates favor the four state constitutional amendment proposals on the Nov. 2 ballot, but Carlisle is clearly more enthusiastic than Kaneshiro, who seems ambivalent on the one Carlisle supports the most.

The four proposed amendments would free state lawmakers to:

  • Allow prosecutors to send a defendant to trial by providing reports to a judge. (Currently, defendants are sent to trial in felony cases by a grand jury indictment or an order by a judge after a preliminary hearing.)
  • Eliminate the requirement for hearings before information about sex offenders could be made public under Megan's Law.
  • Prohibit from trial the use of statements made by victims to their doctors and health professionals.
  • Allow sex-assault convictions for victims under age 14, even if they can't recall specific dates of the assaults and incidents.

Carlisle says a top priority is the amendment allowing defendants to stand trial by "direct filing" of reports to the judge. He says it would save time for victims and law enforcement and free up resources to fight crime by eliminating the need to testify multiple times.

Kaneshiro counters that the proposals are not a panacea. He says "direct filing" isn't necessary, and he fears the office as it is set up now might not scrutinize cases properly before sending defendants to trial.

Alex Garcia, president of the O'ahu chapter of the State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers, says police are frustrated by the prosecutor's office not accepting cases presented by officers. He says the deputy prosecutors want only "perfect" cases, which is often not possible. As a result, Garcia says, suspects are released without any legal restraints.

Kaneshiro says acceptance of a case should not depend on it being "perfect." A major consideration is whether the suspect is viewed as dangerous, he says.

Independence touted

Carlisle says he enjoys good relations with law-enforcement officials as well as police officers. He says he hoped SHOPO would be neutral, and that he never sought endorsements to avoid any conflict of interest or appearance that his office might grant special favors to police.

He says he needs to be independent in large part because his office might have occasion to investigate or prosecute police. Citing his decision not to prosecute three officers who shot and killed Rodney Laulusa in Palolo in 1998, he suggested a SHOPO endorsement might have undermined confidence in his decision.

Carlisle says his office expects police to conduct thorough investigations, which is generally the case. But some investigators turn in "substandard" cases, he says, and "we can't sit there and put up with that."

The true measurement of his effectiveness, Carlisle says, is that Honolulu is safer now. He cites statistics showing crime has gone down, and was more prevalent during Kaneshiro's tenure. The prosecutor's office is better run now, he says, much like a private law firm.

Carlisle believes the key difference between him and his opponent is leadership. "I think a critical aspect of that is going to trial and doing a good job at trial," he says.

Kaneshiro, by contrast, says he doesn't see a need to prosecute cases personally. "I think my deputies can do high-publicity cases. I'm not there to grab the limelight from my deputies."

His emphasis in fighting crime is on the prosecutor being an advocate for public safety, in touch with the community and working cooperatively with other law-enforcement officials.

"You have to have the attitude that everybody is in this together to work toward one goal — to attack the crime problem — and how you get that is cooperation."

The annual salary for the city prosecutor is $99,807.

Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.

• • •

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle wants to continue in his job, he says, "because I believe this is good work that is worth doing."

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Keith Kaneshiro, who was city prosecutor from 1988 to 1996, seeks a third four-year term against incumbent Peter Carlisle.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser


Born: Oct. 12, 1952, in Passaic, N.J.; in Hawai'i since 1978

Lives: Hawai'i Kai

Education: University of North Carolina; UCLA School of Law

Family: Married, two children

Experience: City deputy prosecutor, 1978-88; Shim Tam Kirimitsu & Chang, 1988-96; city prosecutor, 1996-present.

Elections: City prosecutor, 1996, in three-way race with Randal Yoshida, David Arakawa; re-elected 2000, unopposed.

Endorsements: Former Honolulu police chiefs Douglas Gibb and Michael Nakamura; Dr. Ruth Ono, vice president emeritus, Queen's Health Systems; University of Hawai'i law professor Randall Roth; Honolulu attorney Bert T. Kobayashi Jr.

Why running? I would like to remain as Honolulu's prosecuting attorney because I believe this is good work that is worth doing, and I enjoy it.

Campaign Web site: www.petercarlisle.com


Born: Feb . 4, 1949, in Honolulu

Lives: Kaimuki

Education: Farrington High School, University of Hawai'i, California Western School of Law

Family: Single

Experience: City deputy prosecutor, 1978-83; executive director, Hawai'i Crime Commission, 1983-84; state deputy attorney general, 1984-1988; city prosecutor, 1988-96; State public safety director, 1997-98; currently attorney in private practice and security consultant, KMK Associates, which he founded in 1999.

Elections: City prosecutor, 1988, defeating incumbent Charles Marsland; re-elected 1992, defeating Randal Yoshida.

Endorsements: State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers, O'ahu chapter; forensic scientist Henry Lee, International Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union Local 142; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186

Why running? I plan to make a real difference against our crime and drug problems by using my extensive experience enforcing the law and protecting public safety.

Campaign Web site: www.keithkaneshiro.com


Q. How would you attack the ice epidemic?

A. Create tools to identify and convict drug dealers and repeat offenders. Seek greater community emphasis on preventive measures.

Include prevention with neonatal care and healthy-start programs for kids; drug testing in the military, schools and businesses for treatment, not punishment; the use of drug courts and other programs for low-level drug offenders, and imprisonment for chronic repeat offenders.

A. Re-establish specialized drug prosecutors; more aggressively use existing drug laws; a better strategy balancing prevention, treatment, education and enforcement.

Use cooperation and a balanced approach of treatment and enforcement, and introduce innovative strategies such as the Drug Court program, which gives nonviolent criminal defendants a chance to avoid prison by completing drug treatment programs.

Q. Besides "ice," what is O'ahu's most pressing criminal justice issue?

A. Property crimes committed by drug dealers and repeat offenders; incarcerate them. A. More prison bed space and more residential drug treatment, especially for juveniles.

Q. What changes, if any, should be made to Hawai'i's sentencing laws?

A. Close sentencing loopholes that permit repeat offenders to commit crime after crime without significant incarceration. A. Focus on enforcing existing laws more effectively; make better use of geographical restrictions on bail, probation and parole.

Q. What's the No. 1 initiative you'd pursue in 2005?

A. Implement "direct filing" to put more police in the community.

A. Work with community on drug initiatives in prevention, treatment and enforcement.