In race for Honolulu prosecutor, retired judge Steve Alm wins election on pledge of reform

Sunrise 5 a.m. Newscast (Nov. 4, 2020)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Running on a platform of reform, retired Judge Steve Alm defeated defense attorney Megan Kau in the 2020 general election race to become Honolulu’s next prosecuting attorney.

The first results printout, released just after 11:20 p.m. Tuesday night, showed Alm ahead 190,933 votes to 148,883, a margin of roughly 13% ― an amount that Kau was not likely to make-up, Hawaii News Now projected.

“I was never a politician,” Kau said, conceding the race to Alm in a speech late Tuesday night. “I am a former homeless, domestic violence victim, and here I am on the ballot. I am... Nothing disappointing about these numbers at all.”

After a scandal involving former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha enveloped the prosecutor’s office over the course or the last several years, both candidates pledged to revamp ― and clean up ― the office.

“It’s getting the office back where it should be,” Alm said just after midnight. “I feel for the deputies that are there. I’m going to go in there and take a really hard look at anything Kathy Kealoha touched, see if any cases have to be dismissed, if anything was done wrong. We’ll interview people. We’ll also look for any other corruption.”

Current city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who received a target letter from the FBI in the Kealoha probe, is on paid leave amid a sprawling federal investigation. He’s held the job for a total of 16 years.

Kaneshiro took a paid leave of absence but did not step down, despite calls to do so. Acting city Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto has run the office since, but failed to secure enough votes in the primary election to proceed to the general.

On the general election ballot, Oahu voters also overwhelmingly voted to approve a charter amendment that will limit elected Honolulu prosecutors to two consecutive terms. There is currently no such limit in place.

279,468 votes were cast to approve that amendment, amounting to just more than 76% of the vote.

Only three men have held the job since it became an elected position in 1981: Charles Marsland, Peter Carlisle and Kaneshiro.

Alm founded HOPE Probation — Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement — in 2004 to reduce recidivism by drug offenders, while Kau said during her campaign that she would be tougher on crime.

Alm added that he hoped to shape the office into “hopefully the best its ever been," to attract UH law school graduates to stay in Hawaii and work locally practicing law and justice.

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