State Rep. Sharon Har certainly knew the penalties and consequences of drinking and driving when she was arrested the night of Feb. 22 after Honolulu police found her alone in her 2019 Mercedes-Benz, pointed in the head-on direction of one-way traffic traveling on busy South Beretania Street at Piikoi Street.
In March 2007 — 14 years ago — Har survived a horrendous crash on Fort Barrette Road that totaled her Mercedes when a 23-year-old driver with two previous drunken driving cases slammed into her. The other driver was not allowed to be driving and faced a third drunken driving case for the crash.
The collision sent Har to The Queen’s Medical Center and prompted her to lead the effort a year later to create Hawaii’s interlock ignition requirements for drunken drivers — along with other, stiffer changes for drunken driving, technically known as operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, or OVUII.
Har helped shepherd through changes that she herself now faces, including a mandatory revocation of her driver’s license for two years for refusing to take a breath or blood test following her arrest on South Beretania Street.
If she had taken either test, Har would have faced only a one-year revocation of her license when she goes before the state’s Administrative Driver’s License Revocation Office, a civil procedure that’s independent from her criminal court case. Har’s next criminal court hearing is scheduled for April 20.
Har’s attorney, Howard Luke, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The two-year license revocation for refusing to take a breath or blood test is now “set in stone,” largely due to Har’s efforts, said attorney Patrick McPherson. “In essence, you’re punished if you don’t take the test.”
McPherson is a prominent OVUII defense attorney who represented the Hawaii Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2008 when he began serving with Har in creating the interlock program and other changes to drunken driving penalties in the years that followed.
Along with criminal and civil fees and expenses that combined could run more than $10,000, Har — an attorney — also must report any pleas or convictions to the Hawaii Bar Association, McPherson said.
Har (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) is a 52-year-old mother of twin 3-year-old daughters who has had several traffic violations going back to 1996, mostly for driving without insurance. It appears from court records that her February arrest was Har’s first for suspicion of drunken driving.
She is an associate at the Honolulu law firm of Bays Lung Rose Voss, according to her profile on the firm’s website.
Hawaii’s courts are overwhelmed, partly because of the fallout from COVID-19. And since Feb. 1 the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office has been allowing first-time drunken driving defendants — or those who have not had an OVUII arrest in the prior five years — to negotiate agreements to plead their OVUII charges down to reckless driving.
Out of more than 900 potential candidates, over 400 have negotiated reduced charges, according to Matt Dvonch, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office. The program is set to expire April 2.
Even with a reckless-driving plea, defendants must pay a $1,000 fine and either must not drive for a year or have an interlock system installed for a year at the driver’s cost.
Dvonch emphasized that “just because somebody meets these qualifications does not mean they will get this deal.”
While reckless driving might carry less stigma than drunken driving, both are petty misdemeanors that could lead to further punishment for lawyers such as Har.
Asked by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser whether disbarment is a possibility for a plea or conviction of a petty misdemeanor, Bradley R. Tamm, chief disciplinary counsel for the Hawaii Supreme Court’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel, wrote in an email:
“My answer to that would be a qualified ‘yes.’ … The conviction of a petty misdemeanor could trigger an investigation that may lead to the discovery of certain underlying facts, circumstances or matters in aggravation, that could snow ball. It is impossible to speculate. Discipline is imposed after a full review by the system established by the Hawai‘i Supreme Court.”
McPherson said Har was the clear force behind Hawaii’s interlock program, its implementation and other efforts to strengthen drunken driving penalties, including mandating an interlock system for first-time offenders.
“She was the one that pushed it. She was the champion of it,” McPherson said. “She was the person who introduced the legislation into the Legislature. She was the sponsor of the bill to require interlock. At that point you were going to be revoked from driving or a first-time violation would require the use of the interlock.”
Har worked closely with the Hawaii chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving on the bill, and chapter founder Carol McNamee called Har’s arrest “painful.”
“Sharon Har helped us out,” McNamee said. “She knew what the rules were.”
At the same time, McNamee said that “MADD is relieved that Sharon Har’s choices that night did not result in anything terrible like injury or death or to any innocent people in the vicinity and that is thanks to the Honolulu Police Department. Representative Har must be held accountable for the choices that she did make that night.”
MADD had heard of the 2007 crash when Har was hit by a repeat drunken driver, and McNamee called that incident an “aha moment for her.”
Har had more recently gotten married and seemed happy with her twin daughters, “so something does not add up,” McNamee said. “It creates an uneasiness of concern. But it’s important that she be accountable for the choices she made that night. She does have a big (license) revocation ahead of her. We hope that she will accept that gracefully.”
McNamee also hopes that the publicity surrounding Har’s arrest leads “to something positive. … Seeing what Representative Har has gone through and realizing what Representative Har could have caused has reached many people. This was something serious. Driving in the wrong direction could have caused serious problems. This is one of our lawmakers. What a serious problem this is.”
In a statement following her arrest, Har said that she had been taking prescription cough medication with codeine for an upper respiratory illness that had lasted several weeks.
“On Feb. 22, 2021, after a late evening at work, I had a beer with my dinner,” she wrote. “This, in conjunction with my medication, contributed to my impaired driving.
“I am extremely sorry for not anticipating the effect of this combination on my driving,” she said. “I deeply apologize to my constituents, friends, family and colleagues, and to the public for this failure on my part.”
Sharon Ellie Har was first spotted by HPD officers on South Beretania Street, prompting Sgt. Adam Lipka to direct her to pull her SUV to safety.
Har was arrested in the parking lot of Territorial Savings Bank, across from Queen Ka‘ahumanu Elementary School, at 10:07 p.m. by third-watch officers after she refused to take a field sobriety test. Har told officers that she had just come from a restaurant.
Har also was cited for having no insurance and for violating a one-way street.
“I observed her eyes to be red and glassy in appearance and her speech seemed to be slightly slurred,” Sgt. Lipka wrote. “While speaking with HAR at her driver’s window with it fully down and about 3-4 feet from HAR when I briefly lowered my facemask I could smell the odor of alcoholic beverages emitting from her breath and the interior of the vehicle.”
Other officers reported similar observations.
“Sharon spoke with a slow, slurred speech, and had red, glassy eyes,” officer Christopher Morgado wrote. “I could smell a strong odor of a consumed alcoholic type beverage coming from within the vehicle, and would get stronger as she spoke.”
Har listed her occupation as “Hawaii House District 42 Representative,” according to one HPD arrest report, and also as “State House Representative” employed by the “State of Hawaii” in another.
In reports from multiple HPD officers, Har made no mention of using any medication.
“Sharon related that she is not currently taking prescription medication,” officer Morgado wrote in his report.
Har did ask Morgado “if I knew who she is. Sharon then related that she was going to be the next Governor, but ‘this’ will mess up her plans.”
She also “stated ‘Black Lives Matter’” and asked officers “to hurry up because she needed to call people,” Cpl. Clinton Ono wrote.
At one point, officer Dan Ting wrote, “HAR began to scream, yelling ‘owe’ and that officers were hurting her. HAR would then stop, and state ‘black lives matter.’”
As she was being booked into HPD’s main Alapai station on Beretania Street, Har was read the license revocation implications for refusing to take a breath or blood test but refused to sign or initial the documents, Morgado wrote.
Instead, Har interrupted Morgado to say “that she introduced the ‘interlock’ to Hawaii, and is responsible for it being implemented. Sharon was unsteady on her feet and would constantly readjust her footing, even though we were standing still while reading paperwork.”
State Rep. John Mizuno, vice speaker of the House, calls Har a friend and believes that her constituents will forgive Har if she is sincere in taking responsibility for her actions.
“So long as Representative Har is honest and owns up to the DUI charge and goes door to door and does her due diligence,” Mizuno said, “my understanding is that the people of Hawaii are very forgiving.”
State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) called Har a hard worker who does her homework “and is one of the best floor debaters in the history of the Hawaii House of Representatives” in a text to the Star- Advertiser. “But like all of us, she too is flawed and needs forgiveness especially after her public apology to the media and to every member in the House of Representatives. Sharon is now contrite but still a fighter for her constituents and has fessed up to her faults and I suspect she will rebound from this as even a stronger and better representative.”