State Attorney General Clare Connors asked the Hawaii Supreme Court today to immediately suspend Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro because he is the target of a federal investigation.
Connors’ office filed a “Petition for Extraordinary Writ” stating that Kaneshiro’s “purported status as a target of a federal criminal investigation related to his conduct as the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney creates a ‘concurrent conflict of interest’ that requires immediate resolution.”
”Kaneshiro’s refusal to take leave from his public office has subjected every case being handled by the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney to potential ethical and legal challenges,” the attorney general’s petition states. “His refusal to take leave – even temporarily during the pendency of the federal criminal investigation purportedly targeting him – not only compromises the integrity of the prosecutions being conducted under his authority, it seriously harms the working relationship between his office and crucial counterparts in the law enforcement community, including the Chief of the Honolulu Police Department, the Attorney General, and federal agencies.”
At a late-morning news conference to discuss the petition, Connors added, “These conflicts are dangerous.” She said cases handled by the city Prosecuting Attorney office are subject to ethical and legal challenges while Kaneshiro remains in charge.
Connors, who was appointed state attorney general last month, said lawyers have an obligation to avoid conflicts of interest and that the state Supreme Court has the “ultimate authority” over the practice of law in Hawaii.
Kaneshiro’s office issued a one-sentence statement this afternoon in response to today’s filing, saying “Mr. Kaneshiro is in the process of reviewing the petition and has nothing more to say at this time.”
Kaneshiro has refused calls to step aside despite receiving a “target letter” from federal prosecutors in December informing him that he is a target of a grand jury investigation that is tied to the corruption case against former city deputy Katherine Kealoha and her her husband, retired Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha. The Kealohas were indicted on charges that they conspired to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox as part of a family dispute over money. They are also charged with bank fraud for allegedly lying on loan applications to secure mortgages on their home.
In late December, an online petition signed by more than 900 people was filed in court by Honolulu businessman Tracy Yoshimura seeking to have Kaneshiro removed from office because of the federal investigation involving him. The Revised Charter of the City and County of Honolulu requires a petition for impeachment to have 500 signatures of registered voters of the city. Circuit Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree has set a Thursday date for a court conference on the petition.
Connors’ petition today includes a declaration by Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard stating that she is “uncomfortable” with Kaneshiro continued attendance at monthly public safety meetings of city department and agency heads. Ballard said she will not share confidential information with Kaneshiro because of the federal investigation.
“I believe that Mr. Kaneshiro’s situation could adversely affect or compromise pending case, closed cases, or future cases,” she wrote.
Bill McCorriston, an attorney representing Kaneshiro, confirmed that city prosecutor received a letter saying he is a target of the investigation, but he contends Connors’ petition is speculative and based on media reports. McCorriston said there’s no dysfunction in the prosecutor’s office and Kaneshiro deserves a presumption of innocence.
Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, Honolulu’s chief legal officer, took a leave of absence after receiving a target letter linked to the corruption investigation. Chasid Sapolu, Honolulu’s second-highest-ranking prosecutor, announced a leave of absence after receiving a subject letter, which is less serious than a target letter.
Connors vs. Kaneshiro Petit… by on Scribd
The Associated Press contributed to this report.