HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In an extraordinary move, the state attorney general on Tuesday filed a petition with the Hawaii Supreme Court calling for the “immediate suspension” of Honolulu’s embattled city prosecutor.
In the document, state Attorney General Clare Connors said Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro’s refusal to step aside ― despite being the target of a federal public corruption investigation ― “has subjected every case being handled by the Honolulu Department of Prosecuting Attorney to potential ethical and legal challenges.”
Connors added in a news conference that the petition doesn’t preclude Kaneshiro from stepping down now.
In a one-line statement issued Tuesday afternoon, Kaneshiro’s office said the prosecutor is “reviewing the petition and has nothing more to say at this time.”
Kaneshiro’s attorney, Bill McCorriston, later said in a news conference that Kaneshiro has done nothing wrong and is staying put. McCorriston did, however, confirm for the first time publicly that Kaneshiro had received a target letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, which informed him that he was a focus of a public corruption probe.
“He did receive a target letter,” McCorriston said, adding that Kaneshiro is able to effectively run the city Prosecutor’s Office despite the ongoing federal investigation. “There is no concern whatsoever ... that there is any dysfunction.”
Connors, meanwhile, said that Kaneshiro cannot be allowed to continue in his role ― at least for now ― given his serious conflict of interest as the target of a federal probe.
“This is unprecedented. This is an extraordinary situation,” she said.
“We believe it will cause serious harm if this conflict is allowed to continue. We believe it harms the public and we believe it harms the employees who are working in the department (of the prosecuting attorney).”
The so-called “petition for extraordinary writ” comes a day after new allegations surfaced against Kaneshiro.
In a Hawaii News Now report, two of his employees alleged that he had retaliated against them because they testified before the grand jury investigating him.
The women, who asked that their names not be used, say they were both grand jury witnesses.
One woman, who works at the domestic violence safe house run by the city Prosecutor’s Office, says she was summoned to the grand jury after other employees turned in surveillance video from the safe house’s administrative office. The video appears to show workers shredding documents.
Afterward, she said, special assistant to the city prosecuting attorney Roger Lau called her into the office.
“He asked me how it went, and who I spoke to, and what were they asking me," she said. “I was like, I don’t really want to share everything,” the woman said.
Following that exchange, she claims, the retaliation started.
“Ever since then, they would nitpick everything I do," she said. And now the woman is being disciplined — for not following orders.
She was given a letter that said, “Further incidents of a similar nature will result in more, severe action including termination.”
The letter is signed by Kaneshiro.
“They even told me they’re watching me on the cameras for my entire shift, just to let me know they have eyes everywhere,” the woman said, adding that the situation has left her feeling intimidated.
Kaneshiro is also facing impeachment proceedings ― a process that was started after he received the federal target letter. That investigation has already netted lengthy indictments against ex-Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a former top-ranking deputy in Kaneshiro’s office. Both have federal trials scheduled for this year.
Four other police officers were also arrested in connection with the case and their trials are set for March.
This story will be updated.