Embattled city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro announced today that he is taking a leave of absence, effective immediately.
In a statement announcing his decision, Kaneshiro said longtime deputy prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto will become acting prosecuting attorney.
A spokesman for the city Department of the Prosecuting Attorney confirmed that Kaneshiro will be on paid leave.
Today was Kaneshiro’s deadline to respond to state Attorney General Clare Connors’ petition to the Hawaii Supreme Court seeking to suspend him from practicing law.
On Feb. 12 Connors filed a petition for extraordinary writ with the state Supreme Court, stating that Kaneshiro should step down temporarily because he is a subject in the wide-ranging federal case against his office; former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha; her husband, former Police Chief Louis Kealoha; and others. The court gave Kaneshiro 20 days to respond.
The attorney general argued that his tie to the investigation places Kaneshiro in a conflict of interest, and she wants the court to suspend him until the issue is resolved and an appearance of impropriety no longer exists.
An attorney for Kaneshiro confirmed last month that the city’s top criminal prosecutor had received a target letter from the Department of Justice.
After Kaneshiro’s announcement, Connors withdrew her petition with the Supreme Court and issued a written statement. “Mr. Kaneshiro’s decision to step down from his public office while the federal criminal investigation is ongoing addresses the conflict of interest created by his receipt of a target letter,” she said. “This was the right thing for him to do, both for the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney and for the City and County of Honolulu. As the chief law enforcement officer of the State, I will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation at the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney and will take action as necessary.”
The city said Nadamoto has worked as a state deputy attorney general from 1981 through 1989 and from 1996 until 2008, and as a city deputy prosecutor from 1989 through 1996 and from 2010 until today. He is a graduate of the University of Hawaii and received a law degree from the Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued a written statement following the announcement:
“I believe Honolulu’s Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro made the correct decision in taking a leave of absence with pay pending resolution of his situation,” Caldwell said. “As ensured by the Constitution of the United States Keith Kaneshiro is innocent until proven otherwise, but while judicial proceedings move forward, the best solution for the people of the City and County of Honolulu is for him to step aside and allow others to guide the day-to-day operations of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. Acting Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto is an experienced attorney and an effective administrator.”
Here’s the full text from Kaneshiro’s statement today that he is taking a leave of absence:
“This is to announce that I am taking a leave of absence from my office, Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu, effective Thursday, March 7, 2019.
“I am honored to have served as Prosecuting Attorney for 16 years and am proud to have worked with the professionals and staff of the office and I remain dedicated to my commitment to the voters who elected me. Every day we work hard to protect the citizens of this county and to hold those who violate criminal laws accountable.
“Accordingly, to avoid further distraction and to insure the continuity of orderly administration of justice, I am taking leave from my position as Prosecuting Attorney and delegating the responsibility of that office to Dwight Nadamoto to be Acting Prosecuting Attorney.
“I have great confidence that those in the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney will continue to conscientiously perform our mission of enforcing the law.”
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