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Candidates rate drugs as top issue

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Three candidates who all have city prosecutorial experience hope to succeed longtime city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who resigned this summer to run for Honolulu mayor.

The three in the winner-take-all, nonpartisan special election on Sept. 18 are Darwin Ching, a former supervising deputy prosecutor; Keith Kaneshiro, city prosecutor for two terms from 1989 to 1997; and acting First Deputy Prosecutor Franklin "Don" Pacarro Jr., who has spent his entire legal career of 24 years at the office.

Carlisle’s resignation means a new head after 14 years for the city Prosecutor’s Office, which has an annual budget of about $19 million and a staff of about 290, including more than 100 deputy prosecutors.

The new prosecutor would serve the remaining two years of Carlisle’s four-year term.

The three candidates have lifelong ties to the community, growing up in Honolulu and earning degrees at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus. They view drug and methamphet-amine abuse as significant problems.

One issue they disagree on is capital punishment, which was abolished in Hawaii in the 1950s. Ching and Kaneshiro said the state should have the death penalty for certain aggravated crimes, such hired killings, serial slayings and the murder of police officers.

Pacarro said he does not believe in such because studies show states without the capital punishment have lower homicide rates and that the death penalty does not deter criminals.

The three each believe their different backgrounds distinguish them from the other two.

Ching, 64, served at the Prosecutor’s Office from 1981 to 1988, the shortest time among the three. He said it enables him to bring a fresh approach, such as emphasizing deputy prosecutors working closing with the community to deal with neighborhood crime problems.

A graduate of Kalani High School, Ching was in the University of Hawaii law school’s first graduating class in 1976. He was a supervisor of the District and Family Court and the white-collar crime unit at the Prosecutor’s Office.

Ching’s most significant case as a prosecutor was that of courts official Tom "Fat Boy" Okuda, who was convicted in 1989 of fixing traffic tickets.

Ching later ran for, but lost, a seat on the Board of Education in 2004 and 2006, although he served on the board between those years when Gov. Linda Lingle appointed him to fill a vacancy in 2005.

In 2007, Lingle appointed Ching director of the state Department of Labor, a post he held until he resigned in June to run for prosecutor.

Ching said the biggest challenge facing the Prosecutor’s Office is "there seems to be a ‘cannot-do attitude’ rather than a ‘can-do attitude.’" He cited speeding and drunken-driving cases that were set aside by the Hawaii Supreme Court, which he said was partly due to the office not making adjustments.

"We should be keeping up, working on the problems and working with the police and courts rather than always fighting battles you’re not going to win," he said.

Kaneshiro, 61, served as city prosecutor, a supervising deputy attorney general and director of the Department of Public Safety during a time when it sent prisoners to the mainland. His experience, he said, enables him to be a leader in dealing with crime issues, including the drug problem.

A Farrington High School and California Western law school graduate, Kaneshiro defeated Charles Marsland in 1988 but declined to run for a third term in the 1996 race, which Carlisle won. He ran against Carlisle in 2004 and lost.

As city prosecutor, Kaneshiro personally handled the 1994 extradition of Raita Fukusaku, who had fled to Japan but was brought back and convicted of a double murder here. Fukusaku was the first Japanese national to be extradited to the U.S. on murder charges.

Kaneshiro also prosecuted the 1989 shooting murder at Farrington High School, which he said highlighted the youth gang problem that was prevalent at the time.

After leaving the Prosecutor’s Office, Kaneshiro served as executive director of the State Crime Commission and as deputy attorney general in charge of the criminal justice division.

In 1997 and 1998 he was Gov. Ben Cayetano’s director of the Department of Public Safety.

The biggest challenge facing the office is providing "leadership" in dealing with crime, Kaneshiro said.

"The prosecuting attorney should be a leader and a voice in helping to fight crime, reduce crime, and the biggest crime problem we’re facing is the drug abuse problem," he said.

He said crystal methamphetamine is the biggest drug problem, and the abuse of prescription drugs is second.

Pacarro, 53, rose from handling traffic cases to supervising trial deputies to being appointed by Carlisle as first deputy shortly before he left office this summer. Pacarro is supported by Carlisle, and while he plans to push for new programs, he brings a certain degree of continuity to the office.

He also said devoting his career to the office shows his commitment to public safety and encourages younger deputies to remain on the job and become trained and experienced prosecutors.

A Saint Louis School and UH law school graduate, Pacarro handled more than 40 homicide cases, including murder and attempted murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide trials.

He cites as his most significant case an attempted-murder trial involving the brutal 1994 beating at a Haleiwa store that left an Army soldier with permanent brain damage. Four teenagers were involved, but two could not be tried as adults because they were too young.

The case helped spark a debate that led to lowering the age, to 14 from 16, when a youth could be tried as an adult, he said.

Pacarro said the office’s biggest challenge is dealing with the demand for meth-amphetamine. He said no matter how many dealers are convicted or drug houses or organizations are shut down, others will replace them because it is a profitable business.

He said programs geared toward rehabilitation and education must be supported, and he said it is not impossible to change attitudes. He pointed to attitudes toward smoking and drunken driving, which changed over the years.

"We have to focus on young individuals to show that drug use is not where it’s at," he said.

Going into last week, Pacarro raised the most money, more than $120,000. Ching said he raised close to $90,000, including $54,000 he lent to the campaign. Kaneshiro said he raised about $30,000 before a fundraiser Thursday night. He said he did not immediately know how much was raised. The $30,000 included $20,000 he lent to the campaign.

Pacarro has more than a dozen union endorsements, including the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, Hawaii Fire Fighters Association Local 1463, International Longshore & Warehouse Union Local 142, the Hawaii Teamsters & Allied Workers Local 996 and the Hawaii State AFL-CIO.

Kaneshiro is supported by the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Ching said he had not received any union endorsements.


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