11 Honolulu prosecutors out of a job - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

11 Honolulu prosecutors out of a job

Kevin Takata Kevin Takata
Michelle Puu Michelle Puu
Paul Mow Paul Mow

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Keith Kaneshiro officially starts as the next Honolulu Prosecutor on Monday but he's already making some moves and announced 11 of the 104 attorneys will be let go.  Those eleven attorneys have a combined 140 years of combined trial experience and some are finding out at the worst time that the new boss isn't keeping them on board. 

"My husband isn't even here right now he's in the military and he's deployed," said a tearful Michelle Puu, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney who is being let go.

"Some are in more difficult financial situation. There's one lady in particular whose husband lost their job, has two very young children, who I understand is on food stamps," said Kevin Takata, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, who is losing his job. 

The statue of justice is blind but hiring prosecutors may not be.

"After winning all those homicides I would think that the new prosecutor would want to keep the top prosecutor in the office," said Takata.

Takata received the meritorious service award for his 23 years of work.  He won more murder convictions than anyone staff, even more than outgoing prosecutor Peter Carlisle, yet he's packing up his office and losing his job.

"I don't want to speculate as to what the motivation was for the decision but I think my record speaks for itself.  I was and am an ardent supporter of Don Pacarro and I will be. That's because I've known him for over 20 years. We are very good friends.  I consider him to be another brother," said Takata.

"I firmly believe I have done a good job in the time I've been here," said Puu.  "Somebody has to be willing to stand up for victims, for the people that cannot stand up for themselves. This job is a calling and a lot of us that are going to be out of a job come Monday, obviously we're not in it for the money. This isn't something you can do anywhere else," said Puu.

Puu found out she was let go in the middle of a jury selection and she was supposed to start a sexual assault case next week.  Instead she'll be unemployed.

"How do you hand over a child sex assault case midstream, to a prosecutor she's never met and entrust something like that to anybody else. She's going to have to tell that story all over again to somebody brand new to someone she's never met," said Puu.

"Not even meeting with these people, not even knowing who these people are and terminating them, I'm just disgusted. I feel that was inexcusable," said Paul Mow, another Deputy Prosecuting Attorney losing his job.

Mow was notified in a letter that he is losing his job after working in the prosecutor's office since 1989.  He's also a Pacarro supporter.

"If he felt uncomfortable with the fact that we supported the other guy okay, but at least give people the courtesy and tell them face to face. Be a man, talk to us and tell us I don't want you here or whatever.  To just do it and have someone else give me a message from a list in a letter I think that's disrespectful," said Mow.  "In light of what happened I'm even more convinced I made the right decision that the best man for the job was Don Pacarro and not Keith Kaneshiro."

"Our jobs are at will. We can be fired for no reason and that shouldn't be the case," said Takata.

In a written statement Keith Kaneshiro's spokesperson says the terms of the current Deputy Prosecutors expire on the day the incoming Prosecutor takes office.

"Prosecutor-elect Keith Kaneshiro has looked carefully at each current Deputy Prosecutor, including either talking to them, reading through their files, speaking with co-workers and others in law enforcement, and availing himself of any number of other sources of information about their job performance. He had a short amount of time to accomplish this, make his personnel decisions, and assemble/appoint the new staff of Deputy Prosecutors to be sworn in and go to work Monday October 11th. These personnel decisions are confidential and were made with great gravity," wrote Lynne Waters, Kaneshiro's Spokesperson.

The statement also says six new deputies will be sworn in and Kaneshiro has "complete confidence" in his team.

The letter also explained why the dismissed attorneys were notified by letter rather than face to face.

"The personnel notice regarding the 11 Deputy Prosecutors that would not be appointed Monday when Keith Kaneshiro takes office was initiated by Acting Prosecutor Douglas Chin's request Monday that "If we were not going to appoint any current deputies, could we please provide him with the names so he could notify them as soon as possible." We thought that was a reasonable and considerate request so we complied," wrote Waters.

The statement did not mention Don Pacarro, but he did say it was not about payback.

"None of the 11 deputies leaving the office has ever had any cases as opposing counsel with Keith Kaneshiro in his capacity as an attorney in private practice. Not one. So any charges of "payback" or "revenge" from an old courtroom fight are completely false and without merit. Keith Kaneshiro has, however, had many cases with several working Deputies in the office. Every single one of those deputies is among the 93 being appointed on Monday," wrote Waters.

Meanwhile Keith Kaneshiro's spokesperson says he offered opponent Don Pacarro a job in the prosecutor's office.  Instead Pacarro says he's voluntarily leaving and will take a job in private practice as a commercial real estate attorney.  Pacarro came in second in the prosecutor's race by 20,000 votes.

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