Great news, kids! The circus otherwise known as the Mar. 3 Maui County Council hearing is still in town! In fact, it’s bigger than ever!
On that day, the Maui County Council finally confirmed J.D. Kim for another term as Prosecuting Attorney, though it did so in one of the most ham-fisted manners possible. The meeting was part love-fest for Kim (dozens of attorneys from his office testified about what a stand-up guy he is) and part witch hunt, with Maui County Council Chairman Mike White and Councilman Don Guzman acting as inquisitors, darkly referring to allegations from a few Prosecuting Office clerical employees that Kim has mismanaged office and news that Kim had been disciplined by his superior years ago. In the end, the Council approved Kim, but only replicating much of the “circus” White and Guzman accused him of running.
We’ll start with the now-simmering controversy over what Kim’s people did in regards to alleged murderer Keoni V. Tomas, who was arrested a week after Kim’s confirmation hearing and charged with Murder II in the death of Kimberly Vinuya of Kahului. But Tomas had been arrested two months earlier, after the death of Gail Otsuka. According to the Maui PD, they didn’t hold him for long.
“After conferring with the Prosecutor’s Office it was determined that TOMAS was to be released pending further investigation,” stated a Maui PD news release sent out on Mar. 10. “Evidence recovered from the scene was sent to Oahu for DNA analysis. The results of the DNA analysis is still pending. The investigation into this case is still ongoing.”
Way to throw J.D. Kim’s office under the bus, Maui PD! Look, it’s entirely possible that the Prosecutor’s Office had very strong reasons for releasing Tomas back in January–lack of evidence being the most prominent.
Here’s The Maui News on Mar. 13, quoting Mike Victorino: “‘I don’t want people to panic, (that officials are) letting criminals out running around,’ he said, emphasizing that he believes Maui police and prosecutors have been doing an ‘exemplary job,’ according to ‘everything I’ve read and been told.’” For that reason, Victorino wants his Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee to “look at ways to avoid a repeat of what’s happened with the case of Keoni Vinuya Tomas.”
I’m sorry, but this is weird. If Victorino–who was one of the Kim’s biggest cheerleaders on the County Council during its Mar. 3 confirmation hearing–thinks he’s doing such an “exemplary job,” why not just tell his constituents that Kim is doing a fine job? Why make yet another public spectacle out of the Prosecuting Attorney’s office?
And speaking of public spectacles, that Mar. 3 hearing has gotten the Maui County Council in hot water over the Sunshine Law yet again. Seems that the state Office of Information Practices is investigating whether the Council–and specifically, Chairman Mike White–violated the state’s open meetings law when it cut off Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Richard Minatoya during the public comment portion.
“In an email March 6 to Maui County Council Chairman Mike White, the office asks for copies of the agenda and minutes for the March 3 meeting, as well as any additional information the council wants to provide,” The Maui News reported on Mar. 13 in a separate story than that cited above.
If you’ll recall, Minatoya was ripping into Councilmember Don Guzman–a former deputy prosecutor himself and current J.D. Kim critic–for leading what he termed a “travesty–a blatant case of abuse of power and authority.”
Not long after uttering those words, White cut off Minatoya’s microphone and plunged the panel into recess. When the council returned a moment later, White accused Minatoya of posting a “repulsive” photo on Facebook (which was later revealed to be a meme involving a squirrel dangling in what we’ll charitably call a precarious situation). After Minatoya “objected” to that and asked what was repulsive, White called yet another recess. Finally, a few minutes later, Minatoya quickly ended his comments (you can read the entire, unedited statement he intended on reading here).
According to The Maui News story, Minatoya “objected to not being given the full three minutes of testimony allowed under council rules” and complained to the OIP. In his defense, White told The Maui News that one of his “most important duties is upholding the council’s standard of decorum” and that “attacking individuals personally is prohibited and will not be tolerated.”
Photo of Maui County Councilman Mike Victorino courtesy Maui County Council