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.


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

2 replies on “Don’t Throw Out Baby With The Bathwater”

  1. Agree to NO on first two. We don’t need a Youth commission – add them to the neighborhood board as they already have staff, etc. No more bureaucracy!!

  2. Prosecutors or DA’s may not be political leaders but they certainly ARE political animals. And they often respond to political pressure because they need the Party’s support to be re-elected. If a prosecutor can acquire enough “friends” among the Party elite, that can guarantee a clear field for as long as that prosecutor wants to stay in office, no matter how effective or honest. We have a fantastic law which says if one wants to run for a different office, they must resign the office they hold. It allows for a larger, perhaps, better field of candidates. Perhaps a term limit of say, 3 terms, would provide that same benefit for having a solid, HONEST Honolulu Prosecutor.

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