BY JIM DOOLEY – A complaint accusing City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro of ethical misconduct has been filed with the state Bar Association’s disciplinary board but Kaneshiro said the accusation is baseless and comes from a former deputy prosecutor “with an a axe to grind.”
Filed with the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the complaint alleges that Kaneshiro instructed deputies to withhold certain evidence from a defendant in a domestic violence case.
“I responded to the ODC complaint,” Kaneshiro said in an interview. “The allegation is completely untrue. I have never told my deputies not to disclose discoverable material or exculpatory evidence.”
Kaneshiro acknowledged that he did tell two deputies not to inform the defense that a victim in a domestic violence case had given a statement that was “inconsistent” with earlier statements she had made.
“What the victim said was, her statement was a little bit different, she left out some facts so it was not totally consistent with earlier statements,” Kaneshiro said.
“There’s case law that says an inconsistent statement is not recantation, it is not discoverable (evidence)” which must be turned over to the defense, Kaneshiro said.
Frequently crime victims give multiple statements to police, investigators and deputy prosecutors “and of course none of them are the same,” Kaneshiro continued.
Before Kaneshiro took office in November, he said, deputies in the office took the position that when a victim would “leave out a fact, then it was considered exculpatory” and had to be turned over to the defense.
“I told them that’s not exculpatory, that’s inconsistent,” he continued.
“I don’t know how it got twisted, they must have told somebody, eventually they told Kevin Takata,” Kaneshiro said, naming a former high-ranking deputy prosecutor who was forced out of his job when Kaneshiro was elected.
Takata “filed a report with the ODC,” Kaneshiro said.
“He has an axe to grind because I didn’t re-appoint him,” Kaneshiro said of Takata.
Takata is now a state deputy attorney general and said in a telephone interview that complaints filed with the Disciplinary Counsel are confidential and he could not comment on Kaneshiro’s allegations.
Janet Hunt, Chief Disciplinary Counsel, said she could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of a complaint.”
Takata is one of 34 attorneys who have left the prosecutor’s office since Kaneshiro took over. Another 17 non-attorney employees have also left, including three senior criminal investigators.
Of the attorneys who left, Kaneshiro said, “13 were people who were making over $90,000 per year.”
Kaneshiro said he is still filling vacancies but so far has hired 24 new attorneys and seven are being paid more than $90,000.
Nine deputies who were on staff when Kaneshiro arrived have been promoted and given raises of between $2,000 and $5,000 each, he said.
“The raises came from salary savings of the attorneys who left. As you can see, a lot of the high-priced attorneys left,” he continued.
As to reports that morale is bad in the office now, Kaneshiro said, “The morale is not bad because all the people who had bad morale left the office.”
And Kaneshiro said many of the former employees left after Kaneshiro directed that criminal cases should not be resolved through plea-bargaining.
“Some of the people who left saw the writing on the wall that they have to go to trial now and they didn’t want to go to trial, I guess. They just wanted to plea bargain the cases,” he continued.
“We cut back on the plea bargains — giving away all these cases — and we also made the attorneys go to trial,” said the prosecutor.
“Prior to me coming here, the jury trial conviction rate was 33 per cent,” Kaneshiro asserted.
“What we found is that with more people going to trial, the conviction rate is higher now,” said.
Former Prosecuting Attorney Peter Carlisle, who is now mayor of Honolulu, had no immediate comment on Kaneshiro’s statements.
Kaneshiro admitted that his insistence on taking cases to trial is not a popular position with state criminal court judges, who have complained to his deputies about the new ban on plea-bargaining. Criminal court dockets will become increasingly clogged as cases are not resolved before trial.
Crowded courts are not Kaneshiro’s problem, he said.
“If there’s too many cases in court, then the court’s going to have to adjust. Our job is to take cases to trial,” Kaneshiro said.
And if more defendants are convicted and receive stiffer prison sentences, then the already crowded prison system will just have to find a way to handle the overflow, the prosecutor continued.
“The prison system, the Department of Public Safety, is going to have to take care of that,” he said.
Kaneshiro was the director of the Department of Public Safety under Gov. Ben Cayetano when the prison overcrowding problem was solved by shipping inmates to Mainland private prisons.
“What I did was, I sent the inmates to Arizona, to the Mainland and I opened up prison space here. As a result we got people being sent to prison again and right after that the crime rate started going down,” he said.
That stance would appear to put Kaneshiro at odds with newly elected Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who wants to end the practice of Mainland incarceration of Hawaii inmates.
Kaneshiro said he is not opposed to bringing inmates home but said it will require new prison space here as well as expanded drug treatment programs to address substance abuse problems of inmates and criminal defendants.