Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles examining contested Big Island primary election races.
By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Of the three lawyers running to be county prosecutor, one describes himself as “the law-and-order candidate,” another as “a community-oriented prosecutor,” while the third said he was blessed with “the spiritual gift of discernment.”
Lincoln Ashida, a former county deputy prosecutor and the current corporation counsel; Mitch Roth, a deputy prosecutor; and Paul Dolan, a private country lawyer living in Ocean View, are the horses in the first contested race for the department since former County Prosecutor Jay Kimura defeated Brenda Carreira in the Democratic primary in 2000.
According to Campaign Spending Commission reports, “law-and-order candidate” Ashida raised almost twice as much money as Roth, $32,345.82 to $16,641.37 in the first six months of this year, and should be considered the favorite. Roth, the “community-oriented prosecutor,” is a dark horse. Dolan, who has campaigned on not prosecuting marijuana possession cases that fall within the county’s “lowest law enforcement priority” initiative passed by voters in 2008, has raised almost no funds and is the long shot.
Ashida, 50, the only local-born candidate, said his No. 1 priority is “the safety of this community.”
That means that we need to aggressively prosecute offenders and get the bad guys off the streets,” he said. “… I view my job as ensuring that all of the prosecutors have the necessary support, tools and resources to be the best lawyers in the courtroom. … Because in order to get convictions, they need to be at the top of their game.”
He said that property crimes are the No. 1 crime problem on the Big Island.
“There are a lot of burglaries here,” he noted. “You or I could go home and find our house broken into and everything stolen. … There are so many victims who never recover their belongings.”
Ashida also said that communication between prosecutors and police needs to be improved, and pointed to what he called a “conferral system” when he was in charge of felony prosecutions under Kimura, where deputy prosecutors would sit a couple a days a week with police detectives, going over cases.
Ashida handled numerous high-profile criminal cases in his 13 years in the Prosecutor’s Office. Asked if he would prosecute cases himself he quickly replied: “Yes, but not at the expense of compromising my other administration responsibilities. But I am, at heart, and always have been a trial lawyer. That’s in my DNA.”
Roth, who turned 48 on Saturday, has spent 19 years as a deputy prosecutor, five in Honolulu and 14 on the Big Island. He handles asset forfeitures in drug cases, as well as community-oriented prosecution, said he believes prosecutors need to “think smarter, not tougher.” He pointed to his use of the state’s nuisance abatement law, including a case in 2001, where 17 people were evicted from a rooming house at 76 Kilauea Ave. in downtown Hilo.
“We kicked them out of the building, and we kicked them off Kilauea extension, the whole street behind (Garden Exchange). Crime went down about 80 percent in downtown Hilo.”
He also pointed to his involvement in the Pahoa Weed and Seed program, which used a federal grant to tear down abandoned buildings where criminals were said to congregate and installed numerous cameras in downtown Pahoa.
“Pahoa today is a different town than it was six years ago. It’s a lot safer town. People who live around there feel safer. There’s a lot more business,” he said.
In addition, Roth said a supervisor didn’t think there was enough evidence to prosecute the case of Paulino Evangelista, suspected of multiple burglaries on the Hamakua Coast, but that he did.
“His quote to me was, ‘You charge it; you try it.’ So I did,” Roth said.
The case didn’t go to trial, as Evangelista pleaded guilty. Out on $3,000 bail, he missed sentencing. When he was finally hauled into the courtroom in 2003, Judge Riki May Amano sentenced him to 125 years for 12 burglaries.
Had Evangelista showed up for court, he “probably would have got 10 years’ incarceration,” Roth said at the time.
Roth called crystal methamphetamine addiction “the big, bad gorilla in the room” and called it the most pressing problem police and prosecutors face.
He also advocated for better communication with police, and said prosecutors should visit crime scenes and go on occasional ride-alongs with officers.
Both Ashida and Roth said they would take another look at still-open murder and disappearance cases, including the deaths of Dawn Gambsky and Kacee Smith, and the notorious disappearance “Peter Boy” Kema case, a 6-year-old who went missing in the spring or summer of 1997 and whose father told authorities he gave the boy to a relative whom police have never found. Both said it would be inappropriate to comment further, since the case is still open.
Ashida and Roth also noted that Hilo Circuit Judge Greg Nakamura recently ruled the voter initiative making adult personal use of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority unenforceable, citing preemption by state law. That case, brought by marijuana activists, is currently on appeal.
Dolan, 62, spent the better part of an hour talking about the marijuana initiative, also known as the Peaceful Sky ordinance. A former public defender in Los Angeles and a private attorney on Maui before moving to the Big Island, he said that he will follow the will of the voters and not prosecute cases that fall within the law’s parameters.
“The lowest law enforcement priority of cannabis act (was) passed by the voters, 35,609 of them,” said Dolan, who added that he doesn’t use marijuana. “And I believe their wish is to use marijuana for adult use. But I don’t want them to get the wrong idea. They have to be responsible for their own actions. I’m not going to tolerate the abuse of that privilege, and it is a privilege. It is the law.” He added that Green Harvest helicopters are still flying and must stop.
Dolan detailed different plans for dealers of methamphetamines and other hard drugs. His 22-year-old daughter, Laurie Dolan, died in 1993 after overdosing on cocaine, morphine and codeine at a Hollywood party. He called the host, Jacob “Cookie” Orgad,” who’s now in prison, “the largest importer of ecstasy in the U.S.” Dolan said not prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases will mean more time and resources to deal with meth.
“The issue of the drug dealers coming onto our high schools and our colleges has to stop, and it’s gonna stop on this island,” he said.
Dolan also advocates public access to shorelines and Hawaiian trails and prosecuting landowners who deny access, giving police more discretion to not ticket people who drive without insurance due to economics, and treating habitual DUIs as “more of a disease and less of a crime.”
“We live on an island that’s the safest place on Earth,” he said. “It’s the healthiest place on Earth. But we need to make it a just place. … It’s not about the amount of convictions that we get; it’s not about the statistics. It’s not about the federal money. It’s not about the terms of the sentences. That’s not justice.”
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.