Former mayor wants embattled Honolulu prosecutor’s job

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle wants to return to his old job as the city’s top prosecutor because of a growing corruption scandal, he said Wednesday.

Carlisle told The Associated Press he is seeking to replace Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro, who took a leave of absence after receiving a letter informing him he’s a target in a federal investigation.

The investigation has led to indictments against retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha. They’re accused of using police resources and abusing their authority to conspire with police officers to frame a relative in an attempt to hide their financial fraud.

U.S. prosecutors say Katherine Kealoha bilked banks, relatives and children whose trusts she controlled to fund the couple’s lavish lifestyle. The Kealohas have pleaded not guilty.

Kaneshiro hasn’t been charged, and details about the investigation of him haven’t been publicly disclosed.

“The next election will be in 2020. If Mr. Carlisle or others would like to run, they should feel free to do so,” said Bill McCorriston, an attorney who represents Kaneshiro.

Carlisle, 66, said he would be willing to serve sooner if Kaneshiro is ousted. A Honolulu businessman has filed an impeachment petition against Kaneshiro.

“I’m geared up and ready to go,” Carlisle said. “The sooner Kaneshiro is replaced, the better off Honolulu will be.”

Carlisle’s “uninformed judgments” about the investigation, should be discounted McCorriston said: “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Carlisle, who as a prosecuting attorney would have taken an oath to uphold the Constitution, including the presumption of innocence, would make statements such as this.”

Carlisle was the city’s prosecutor from 1996 to 2010. He was mayor from 2010 to 2012.

According to the city charter, a qualified prosecuting attorney “shall have been actively involved in criminal cases for at least three years within ten years next preceding the prosecuting attorney’s election.”

Carlisle said he’s aware of that. “My argument is that I qualify,” he said, without elaborating.

Carlisle was most recently in private practice. He said he’s up to the job even though he’s been battling a medical condition that’s preventing him from driving for six months. “It’s a brain bleed. A surface bleed,” he said.

The ex-mayor would be a serious candidate, said Neal Milner, a retired University of Hawaii political science professor.

“He’s a good politician,” he said. “Kaneshiro is about as vulnerable now as he’s ever been.”

Milner noted that Carlisle beat Kaneshiro in a 2004 primary.

The city charter says if there’s a prosecuting attorney vacancy while there’s at least a year left in the term, there would be a special election. If less than a year, the first deputy would serve. If the first deputy is found to be unqualified, the mayor and council would appoint someone.

There have been only three people in the prosecutor’s job since it became an elected position in 1981, said Colin Moore director of the university Public Policy Center.

“There might be an opportunity here for a fresh face or a new person,” he said. “We haven’t seen a real strong challenge in that office for a while.”