Incoming County Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho is not going to waste any time in implementing sweeping changes to her department and is excited to begin her four-year term as one of the island’s top law enforcement officials.
In a phone interview Friday, she said she would be heading straight to court to begin trying her first case immediately after 5th Circuit Chief Judge Randal Valenciano officially swears her in Monday afternoon.
“We’re going to hit the ground running,” she said.
Iseri-Carvalho, who ran unopposed for the position and replaces Craig De Costa, earned a Bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of Colorado-Boulder, then graduated from the University of Hawai‘i school of law in 1989.
Two years as a judicial clerk in Honolulu’s 1st Circuit set the stage for Iseri-Carvalho to work in the Public Defender’s office on O‘ahu and Maui from 1992 to1996. She then returned to Kaua‘i after being hired as a deputy prosecutor under Michael Soong.
During her time in the prosecuting attorney’s office, Iseri-Carvalho said she handled sex assault and other violent crimes, posting a 96 percent conviction rate.
In 2004, she left that post and ran successfully for Kaua‘i County Council, where she spent the last four years essentially on “hiatus” from the practice of law, instead working on passing legislation.
That wide range of professional roles — she spent time in the judicial, executive and legislative arenas and both state and county offices — makes Iseri-Carvalho believe her “unique” background will “promote diversity and impact the criminal justice system in a very different way” and give her “different ways of looking at how to prosecute cases.”
She also said her experience would help her reopen communication with the judges that had become strained.
“The relationship between the prosecutor’s office and the judiciary was at an all-time low,” she said. “So many people came up to me to ask me to run because the system had really been broken. … Integrity was missing.”
Iseri-Carvalho said she hoped to infuse traditional Hawaiian values into the prosecutor’s office, saying she believed more community adherence to those values would drive down the crime rate.
She said her family’s history on the island pre-dates Capt. Cook, and noted that persons with at least partial Hawaiian heritage have risen to the top of county government, mentioning by name Mayor-elect Bernard Carvalho, Council Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing and Police Chief Darryl Perry.
Iseri-Carvalho and Perry, specifically, will be working closely together in coordinating the enforcement of Kaua‘i’s laws.
“I believe the police department is on its way to doing really great things,” she said. “I think this is a great opportunity to have the police department and the prosecutor’s office work collaboratively to keep the community safe.”
She said she and Perry have talked about “how I can help him achieve his goals, and how he can help me achieve my goals.”
Two main programs Iseri-Carvalho espoused Friday were vertical prosecution — a system in which a single prosecutor handles a case from the time it is referred from police until it is adjudicated, creating more trust between the police and the prosecutors and improving continuity and efficiency — and eliminating the current backlog of warrants to help the public recognize the “cause and effect” relationship between illegal behavior and prosecution.
A third program Iseri-Carvalho hopes to implement is a community prosecution unit that takes a grassroots approach to problem solving by using community meetings to educate residents and help them prevent crime instead of simply prosecuting violators after the crime is committed.
Because she ran unopposed for office, Iseri-Carvalho was able to spend recent weeks and months preparing for her new role, formulating those program ideas and finding attorneys to fill spots in her office.
She said her first deputy would be Lori Wada, a “highly successful” prosecuting attorney for 18 years on O‘ahu.
“I really have the strongest suspicions that one day soon, she’ll be a judge,” Iseri-Carvalho said of her top lieutenant. “She has an excellent track record.”
Three deputies from De Costa’s team, Mauna Kea Trask, Justin Kollar and Tracy Murakami, have also been retained.
Iseri-Carvalho said she hoped to “hire for the attitude and train for the skills,” but that coming in during the middle of a budget year would make it difficult to determine how much funding was available.
She may often be in front of former County Council colleagues asking for additional monies to run her department, and does not believe any adversarial relationships from her time in their company will impact those discussions.
“I believe that we have always been unanimous in terms of public safety. Regardless of what other issues there may have been on other issues, I don’t foresee that as a problem with any of the council members,” she said. “All of them are committed 100 percent to public safety.”