At a hastily convened press conference held Friday, March 1, at the Kalana O Maui Building, Mayor Mike Victorino announced Don Guzman as his nomination to serve as the county prosecuting attorney. Guzman replaces controversial appointment John D. Kim, who, until March 1, held the post as “temporary interim acting prosecuting attorney.” Kim, the mayor’s first nominee for prosecuting attorney, was rejected by a 5-4 vote of the council on Feb. 22.
Guzman, a former deputy prosecuting attorney and councilmember representing Kahului, said that he was “surprised” by the appointment. After filing an application with the mayor’s screening committee in November, the candidate never received a call back. But in the last week, Guzman said, he re-submitted his resume, which resulted in an interview with the mayor just hours before the announcement. He added that he was notified of his selection only 20 minutes before the conference.
“You’re just as surprised as I am today,” Guzman said. “I rushed back [to the Kalana O Maui Building] when I got the call.”
On Feb. 28, MauiTime published a story regarding an internal email that indicated other plans for the appointment of a new prosecuting attorney. The email, signed by J.D. Kim, informed employees of the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney that Robert Rivera would be appointed to lead the department and Kim would be named deputy prosecutor.
The next day, another email was obtained by MauiTime from within the prosecutor’s office that was sent earlier that morning. In it, Kim apologized for “prematurely” announcing the mayor’s selection for prosecuting attorney.
Victorino described the internal email from Kim to his employees within the department as a “rumor.”
“Come to me first. I’ll tell you the rumors, whether they’re true or not,” he told me.
Actually, MauiTime requested comments on the email three times through the mayor’s Communication Department before publishing the story. On each occasion, the department declined to say whether the content of the email sent by Kim was true or false, responding only that the mayor would announce his nominee on March 1.
When asked about the message, Maui County Managing Director Sandy Baz said that the email was not authorized by the mayor and that he “was not sure where that communication came from.” Baz later indicated that Guzman and Victorino would work together to select deputy prosecutors, adding that J.D. Kim “is not gonna be first deputy, I can tell you that much.”
In comments on his nomination, Guzman stated that, for “continuity,” he would be keeping Robert Rivera onboard as first deputy prosecuting attorney. He also said that he was ready for the confirmation process ahead, in which he will seek to gain the support of a majority of the County Council.
“I think it’s something that’s going to be difficult, but also it’s part of the process,” he said. “I was one of the councilmembers that actually introduced that process on legislation as a charter amendment.”
In closing, Guzman gave the room a taste of the difference he would bring to the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, which has been under Kim’s leadership since 2011.
“It’s nice being away from [the prosecutor’s office],” Guzman said, “because sometimes when you’re in the prosecutor’s office you start living in a bubble and living in a silo and not understanding all of the ramifications that a criminal charge or conviction may be to the family and the community.”
“You have to learn to balance the victims, the community, as well as the employees that you supervise,” he added. “I think gone are the days of very, very zealous prosecutors… that it was to win, and ‘how many wins did you get?’ I’m going to come in with a more holistic point of view where we need to look at every aspect before we do recommendations as well as sentencing.”
Photo by MauiTime