Retired justice takes on new challenge as police commissioner

Retired justice takes on new challenge as police commission chair

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The mayor's choice to lead the Honolulu Police Commission is no stranger to controversy.

Former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson is known nationally for his groundbreaking 1993 legal opinion, which made Hawaii the first state to recognize same-sex marriages.

Levinson has been retired from the bench for almost eight years but, he says, appears not to have "completely gotten the public service bug out of my system."

He says Caldwell approached him just weeks ago about taking the position on the police oversight board, which has garnered criticism  for its handling of an FBI probe into Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

"A part of me is wondering why at the age of 70 I am leaping back into the fire," Levinson said. "The short answer to why do it is, why not?"

The volunteer police commission is charged with hiring and firing the chief of police and investigating complaints.

Levinson, who has previously served on the boards for the ACLU and Equality Hawaii, must still be confirmed by the Honolulu City Council.

If confirmed, he'll take the spot held by current commission Chair Ron Taketa, whose term expired 11 months ago.

In announcing Levinson's appointment, Caldwell thanked Taketa for his years of service. "He provided a calm and a sense of order when the popular opinion was to act otherwise," Caldwell said.

Under Taketa's leadership, though, the commission has been criticized for taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the Kealoha case.

For almost a year, a federal grand jury has been hearing testimony and is expected to make a decision soon on whether the chief and his wife, deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, should face criminal charges of public corruption and civil rights violations.

Levinson is expected to bring another strong voice to the commission.

Police Commissioner Loretta Sheehan was confirmed less than two months ago, and immediately started asking tough questions about the case.

Levinson says he too wants answers, but is reserving judgment for now.

"Clearly this is a subject that cannot be ignored," he said. "Put it this way, the commission has to take some kind of definitive action. But what that action is in terms of what I think the commission should do, I cant say because I don't know enough yet."

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