Former U.S. Attorney and Circuit Court judge Steve Alm easily had the most votes in the primary race for Honolulu prosecuting attorney, but he did not garner enough support to avoid a general election runoff with former Deputy Prosecutor Megan Kau.
Kau finished a distant second (24% to Alm’s 41%) but ahead of Deputy Public Defender Jacquie Esser, who was third with 19%.
Acting Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto, the man who took over the office in the wake of the Kealoha scandal, was far back in fourth place, with Honolulu attorneys RJ Brown, Tae Kim and Anosh Yaqoob trailing.
Alm, 67, held leadership positions in both the United States Attorney’s Office and the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office. He led Honolulu’s Weed &Seed program that reduced crime in Chinatown and Kalihi-Palama and created HOPE Probation, the nation’s first pilot program to reduce probation violations by drug offenders and others at high risk of returning to the system.
In an interview Saturday night, Alm said his candidacy resonated with the voters.
“As I traveled around the island, so many said, ‘Will you bring trust back to the Prosecutor’s Office?’” Alm said. “That’s what this election is all about. I have the proven experience and integrity to clean up the office and restore trust.”
On the campaign trail, Alm argued that his experience would allow him to hit the ground running to bring credibility to the office and create a culture of high ethical standards.
Alm pledged to promote programs proven to enhance the safety of the public.
He said he would consider reorganizing the office to what best serves the needs of the criminal justice system and of victims and would consider creating specialized teams of deputy prosecutors, such as for homicides and for drug cases, so they will be more effective in working with the Honolulu Police Department and producing better outcomes in court.
Megan Kau, 42, a lawyer specializing in civil litigation, complicated criminal cases and personal injury, said she will work hard over the next three months to cut into Alm’s margin of victory by stressing her more recent and relevant experience and knowledge of the system.
“Like the mayor’s race, people are looking for change. They want new energy,” Kau said.
“I’ve been telling people from the beginning that if Steve Alm is elected prosecutor, it will be a good office. If Megan Kau is elected prosecutor, it will be a great office,” she said.
Kau has vowed to prosecute all crimes, both high- and low-level offenses, to make violators accountable for their actions.
Kau added that she’s the only candidate who assisted the federal government in investigating Katherine Kealoha and will ask anyone who assisted the jailed deputy prosecutor to resign from the office.
Esser, a 38-year-old mother of a 5-year-old and public defender for 10 years, campaigned on reform and stressed fair treatment in the criminal justice system. She said she wouldn’t prosecute crimes stemming from poverty such as violations of Honolulu’s sit-lie ordinances and park closure laws and would instead refer those people to programs that provide help.
Esser also said she wouldn’t prosecute non- violent crimes stemming from substance use disorder if the defendant is willing to get treatment. She also vowed to stop prosecuting other low-level offenses and focus on prosecuting serious crimes like murder, rape, sex trafficking, robbery, aggravated assault and public corruption.
Nadamoto, 67, took over the Prosecutor’s Office in 2019 after Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro went on a paid leave of absence when the U.S. Department of Justice notified him that he was a target in the criminal investigation involving former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine Kealoha, one of Kaneshiro’s deputies.
The Kealohas and two Honolulu Police Department officers await sentencing after a federal jury found them guilty of conspiracy and obstruction last year. The case started as a bogus mailbox theft allegation by the Kealohas against Katherine Kealoha’s estranged uncle but exposed a wider effort to defraud Katherine Kealoha’s grandmother through a botched reverse-mortgage scheme.