WAILUKU - John D. "J.D." Kim, a veteran Maui County deputy prosecutor with a reputation for intelligence and fairness, has been nominated to be on Maui County prosecuting attorney.
Mayor-elect Alan Arakawa announced Kim's nomination Wednesday, along with the appointment of former Deputy Prosecutor Robert Rivera as first deputy prosecuting attorney.
"J.D. and Robert have tremendous experience with handling criminal cases, including working with law enforcement and grand juries in prosecuting cases in Maui County," Arakawa said in a news release. "Their experience and fine leadership abilities should enable them to serve the citizens of Maui County well as the new heads of the department."
Rivera and Kim
Kim's nomination is subject to confirmation by the Maui County Council, which is expected to take up the matter in January.
Kim would replace Prosecuting Attorney Benjamin Acob as head of the department that has been in turmoil in recent months.
In February, community members held signs in a rally outside the Kalana O Maui Building to protest the sudden firing of Rivera, who had handled high-profile murder trials and prosecuted sexual assault cases during 18 years as a deputy prosecutor.
In June, a federal discrimination lawsuit was filed against the department by Marie Kosegarten, a former deputy prosecutor who alleged she was subjected to sexual harassment and retaliation before she was fired in 2009.
On Wednesday, some attorneys were hopeful that Kim's nomination and Rivera's return to the prosecutor's office would resolve concerns about low morale in the office and a backlog of felony cases in 2nd Circuit Court.
"They're worthy opponents, but they're both reasonable, and I think they both make good leaders," said Deputy Public Defender Wendy Hudson, who supervises the Maui office. "They're both fair and just. In my dealings with them, they have been very straightforward. They're men of their word.
"Now we're hopeful we can move forward with our backlog of cases. I think it will be a nice change, a positive change for the legal community," she said.
"J.D. is a great choice to be the next prosecuting attorney," said attorney Byron Fujieda, a former deputy prosecutor who left the office to go into private practice nearly three years ago. "He is someone who has dedicated himself to protecting our community, ensuring justice in a fair and compassionate manner. The community is in good hands with J.D. Kim at the helm of the prosecutor's office."
Deputy Public Defender William "Pili" McGrath, who has worked with Kim and Rivera for 13 years, said both men "are excellent, professional career prosecutors with high ethical standards."
"I expect they will bring a sense of fairness and proportionality to the office," McGrath said. "And I'm hopeful that the large backlog we're dealing with will be able to be addressed in a way that meets the ends of justice and serves the community."
Kim has been a deputy prosecutor for about 17 years and was a deputy corporation counsel for seven years. After obtaining a bachelor's degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, he earned a law degree from Temple University School of Law in Philadelphia.
Kim and his wife, Catherine Nobriga-Kim, have three children - Michael, Ethan and Kaitlin.
"Robert and I are excited and look forward to undertaking our assigned task; moreover, we are humbled by this appointment," Kim said. "We will seek to re-energize the office and, at this time, acknowledge the efforts of all the agencies involved in the criminal justice system. We intend to establish the important and cooperative working relationship in protecting our community in the administration of justice. That is our mission - to do justice."
Kim currently is the deputy prosecutor assigned to the Maui Drug Court program, which offers treatment and supervision as an alternative to incarceration for some nonviolent offenders. Kim also is part of the unit handling prosecution of drug cases.
Deputy Public Defender Danielle Sears, who has worked with Kim while assigned to the Drug Court program for the past two years, said he has a "mind like a steel trap" when it comes to recalling details and the law.
"It's amazing," she said. "He knows lots of people and lots of things.
"What I respect the most about J.D. Kim is that he cares deeply about justice. Although it is an adversarial system, he doesn't let his ego get in the way. It's not about winning for J.D. It's about following the law and the Constitution and doing what's right."
Deputy Public Defender Jim Rouse said Kim's nomination was "great news for the people of Maui."
"J.D. knows more law than most people I know in the courthouse," Rouse said. "He's a reasonable person and a good-natured person.
"The fact that Robert Rivera is going to be his first deputy - that's just justice."
Rivera is currently a partner in Rivera & Martin, a law firm concentrating in criminal, family and immigration law. He has a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University at Provo, Utah, and a law degree from BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School.
"I am looking forward to working with J.D. and to re-establishing so many good contacts that both J.D. and I have had with other agencies such as the Children's Justice Center and Women Helping Women," Rivera said Wednesday. "I truly believe we will do our best to serve the community and the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney."
Rivera and his wife, Leanne, have three children - Caleb, Makana and Eleanna.
Stacey Moniz, executive director of the nonprofit Women Helping Women, said she was looking forward to continuing a strong working relationship with the next prosecutor.
Moniz, who was among those at the rally for Rivera, said she was excited that he would be returning to the prosecutor's office.
"I've always said that Robert's a fierce champion for the underdog and for the victimized, the people who have no voice in our community - children who are victims, women victims of sexual assault and violent crimes," she said. "We're really fortunate to have him in our community."
About 30 deputy prosecutors, who are exempt from civil service rules and serve at the pleasure of the prosecuting attorney, can submit their resumes to see if they will be offered employment with the change in leadership.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.