WAILUKU - Maui County Clerk Jeffrey Kuwada has dismissed a challenge to the candidacy of Elle Cochran, which claimed she was not eligible to run for office because she has a criminal record.
Cochran pleaded no contest to second-degree attempted theft in 1994, for an incident in which she stood by while her then-boyfriend attempted to rob four tourists at gunpoint in Lahaina. She was sentenced to probation and community service. Reached on Monday, Cochran said she had been involved with drugs at the time of the incident, but had turned her life around and been clean and sober for nearly 17 years.
"I'm not proud of what happened, but I never forget where I've come from and what brought me to where I am today," said Cochran, who finished first in the primary election race for the Maui County Council's West Maui residency seat, beating runner-up Alan Fukuyama with 7,980 votes to his 5,693. She and Fukuyama will face each other in the Nov. 2 general election.
Kahului resident Jeffery Ursua filed the challenge, which was received by the county Thursday. Ursua could not be reached for comment.
Kuwada said he dismissed the challenge because it missed the Aug. 19 deadline to make an objection to a candidate's nomination papers.
But Kuwada also noted that he had checked Cochran's criminal record earlier this year when she first filed papers to run for office, and determined that she was eligible to be a candidate.
Although Cochran's 1994 conviction is a felony, she received a certificate of discharge from the state after she successfully completed her sentence of five years' probation and 200 hours of community service, making her eligible to run for and hold elected office, Kuwada said.
The objection to Cochran's candidacy is the fifth voter challenge filed this year. Previous challenges claiming Fukuyama and fellow West Maui council candidate Zeke Kalua, as well as Lanai council candidate Riki Hokama didn't meet residency requirements were thrown out. Second Circuit Judge Joel August threw out a challenge to Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo's candidacy earlier this month, saying he did not have jurisdiction to rule on it. The challenge was then filed with the Hawaii Supreme Court
Cochran, then 28 and known under her maiden name of Eleanora Kellett, was originally charged with first-degree robbery and using a firearm in the commission of a felony for the incident that occurred Nov. 27, 1993.
According to court documents, Cochran was with Marco Antonio DeCiaccione when he accosted four tourists in the parking lot of the Lahaina Cannery Mall. DeCiaccione pointed a .38-caliber handgun at them and demanded money.
Cochran tried to help DeCiaccione after he was apprehended by mall security and "attempted to wrestle the gun away from the security guard" before she could be subdued, according to the documents.
DeCiaccione was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Court records also indicated Cochran had previously pleaded no contest in 1993 to two counts of promoting a dangerous drug in the third degree.
Her record has been clean since the 1994 conviction.
Cochran said Monday she had thought about the case "over and over again" in the past months and wondered whether she should bring it up and, if so, when and how. She said she felt a sense of relief that she was finally able to address it.
"I really have nothing to hide," she said.
Cochran said that after she was arrested in 1993 she participated in a 12-step program for drug and alcohol abuse.
"I've been clean and sober, this coming Christmas Eve, for 17 years," she said.
She said she's tried to give back to society by using her experience to help others, such as volunteering to mentor prisoners re-entering society with Maui Economic Opportunity's BEST program, and serving as a mediator in the court system.
"I feel my past is more of an inspirational story and a positive example of what a person can do to turn their life around," she said. "It makes me more of a real person in that I'm not a perfect person. I know there are people out there who are going through what I went through, or have a grandchild or a husband or wife or a parent who is going through it."
She also said she fulfilled a dream when she was able to approach retired 2nd Circuit Judge Boyd Mossman at an event earlier this year and thank him for giving her a chance when he sentenced her to probation 16 years ago.
"I said, 'I want to tell you I'm standing here today, I am a changed person like I said I would be . . . and I want to thank you for giving me that new lease on life,'" she said. "He was very touched."
Reached Monday, Fukuyama said he'd heard "tidbits" about Cochran's criminal record, but was surprised to learn the details. He said he didn't plan to focus on it during his campaign.
"I'll let the thing run its course," he said. "If everything is clear and kosher, she'll be OK. It's interesting news. I just wish her well. I'm happy for her that she's clean and leading a different life now."
"Things are good," Cochran said. "It's kind of like that load is a little lifted off me, and it's OK. Some people won't take it in a good way, and that's all right. But some people, I hope, will see it in a positive light."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article contains a correction to the one originally published on Sept. 28th. The original story incorrectly described the judge's ruling in a challenge of Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo's candidacy and how the matter came before the high court.
The Maui News apologizes for the error.