You’d do well to ignore today’s editorial call in the Star-Advertiser for term limits on the Honolulu Prosecutor.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the bad behavior of former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha and the sense that chief prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro expended too little supervision of her activities or maybe even was party to some of them.
We’ve had a pretty minimal experience with elected city prosecutors. Charles Marsland (1981–1988), Keith Kaneshiro (1989–1996), Peter Carlisle (1997–2010), and Kaneshiro again in 2010 until he was removed because of a federal investigation of both his office and him personally.
Marsland was a hard-core “lock ’em up” guy because he lost a son to criminal activity here. Carlisle was a law-and-order man, too, basically, but he had his eye on the mayor’s job more than the prosecutor’s. Kaneshiro’s under some suspicion right now, but look at how many years we liked him in office.
A city prosecutor is not a political leader and so is not judged by the standards we apply to a mayor or a City Council member. He or she does not make policy or law. He or she enforces statutory law. The prosecutor can be either hard-line and favoring prosecution for even the smallest misdemeanor (like William Bratton when he was New York’s police chief) or more inclined toward rehabilitation and not wasting much time on petty crime.
And maybe the office does need some refreshment and maybe Kaneshiro was in too long and developed too many favorites or gave breaks to friends or politicians. But we kept voting for him. We didn’t have any yearning for a term limit ten years ago when we brought him back. Why suddenly now?
The best way to handle that office is exactly the way we do with our police chiefs. Unless one retires or resigns, the job’s safe so long as an oversight body — the Police Commission — says the holder’s doing it well. In the case of the Honolulu Prosecutor, we voters are that “oversight commission.” Every four years we are offered a chance to change prosecutors. We make a judgment call then on competence.
A term limit would toss out a prosecutor who’s doing a bang-up job and has our majority approval. That makes no sense. Ipso facto, that editorial makes no sense. It says “leadership in this office needs refreshing from time to time.” That’s saying even great leadership needs refreshing.
If a prosecutor made public policy decisions as do mayors and city/state lawmakers, I’d be okay with the refreshment argument.
But term limiting because of a whim about refreshment would toss out a lot of very good babies.