LIHU‘E — Meeting the demand of an increase in felony cases was among concerns expressed by Office of the Prosecuting Attorney staff members during a Kaua‘i County Council fiscal year 2013 budget hearing Friday.
But then controversy turned the scheduled two-hour presentation into an all day event.
County Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho was present with Second Prosecuting Attorney Jake Deleplane to discuss anticipated challenges to their department in the coming year.
Deleplane said the office succeeded in effectively prosecuting a sharp increase in felony and traffic caseloads with nearly 100 percent conviction rates in most categories. He credited a vertical prosecution structure that assigns deputy prosecutors to cases rather than specific courtrooms.
This is more efficient than a horizontal structure where prosecutors hand off cases to other attorneys when they move to circuit court, Deleplane said. It is also a way to keep witnesses and victims working with the same attorneys throughout the process.
The OPA intends to hire an investigator, two attorneys, a senior administrative clerk and a special prosecuting attorney position for legal counsel.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro referred to Councilman Tim Bynum’s report and said that with 11 full-time equivalent and two part time prosecutors, there were 58 months worth of vacated prosecutor time, or a 14.7 percent vacancy rate. He asked for the OPA to provide a comparison to other county prosecutor offices.
Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura said the prosecutor’s budget report was not accurate when compared to the mayor’s budget.
“You are proposing $4.1 million, and the mayor’s budget is $3.8 million,” Nakamura said. “As it is presented here, there is not a balanced budget.”
The mayor’s budget does not include county funding for existing positions of two clerks, a receptionist and a special investigator, said Iseri-Carvalho during a recess. The positions are partially grant-funded, and the county would assume them as a “wish list” add-on to the mayor’s proposed FY 2013 budget.
Iseri-Carvalho said the office budget justifies the additional items and that it is their hope to have them placed on the updated budget.
The OPA is requesting $70,000 for a Victim/Witness and Court Diversion Center. The estimated cost is to budget 1,500 square feet of county office space.
It would provide office space at a separate location for victim services including interviews, counseling and rehabilitative and educational programs, according to the presentation.
Iseri-Carvalho said OPA is seeking grant funds to equip the program in space they would request from the county. She said it would ideally be accessible to the OPA and the police department.
Bynum questioned the reduction of the number of victim witness counselors and whether they could assist active prosecutions by sending them to the YWCA. Iseri-Carvalho said the victims are receiving services, and that outreach does not necessarily have to come from a victim witness counselor.
Nakamura asked for more detailed reports on the four diversion programs of P.O.H.A.K.U., Teen Court, Drug Court and the Mental Health Diversion program. She also expressed concern for the lack of funding of judicial diversion and community service programs.
Iseri-Carvalho said diversion programsare needed to prevent a situation where the wealthy have the option to pay a fine and the poor get the jail time because they can’t convert the time to community service.
The services provided to victims include outreach, education and referrals, advocacy, counseling, case preparation, crime victim compensation transpiration, shelter and accompanying them to court
Deleplane said juvenile case statistics dropped slightly from last year but are still rising from much lower rates a few years ago. He said young people are involved in more felony offenses, and more are related to prescription drug use and related theft for addiction and profit.
The OPA is also creating a Cold Case Unit with the Kaua‘i Police Department. It could access technical and administrative resources from around the country, according to Iseri-Carvalho.
Councilman Mel Rapozo asked whether the Cold Case Unit and convicted sex offender program would become a long-term program.
Iseri-Carvalho said there are approximately 100 convicted sex offenders on the island and a third of them are not registered. A recent sweep was in part an update of police department policies to ensure offenders are complying with annual updates.
The expense at that point would be with the police, and she said the concern is that police maintain a full time records position within the department. Those positions would help ensure offenders are registering and in compliance, she said.
Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura questioned whether the OPA was moving civil service positions to exempt positions that are not subject to civil service testing. The response was that they were not.
She also questioned the travel budget that she said represents a 300 percent increase from last year. Iseri-Carvalho said the travel is for her role as president of the Hawai‘i Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and her decision to attend parole hearings on O‘ahu or the Mainland involving serious capital crimes.
Yukimura objected to the county attorney informing the council that members could not discuss the P.O.H.A.K.U. diversionary prosecution program in open session. She said the questions would pertain to public record.
County Attorney Al Castillo stated that comments of the prosecuting attorney’s office, specifically about the P.O.H.A.K.U. program, raise a conflict on legalities related to his clients and that it should be discussed in executive session.
Rapozo said he agreed there was a potential conflict.
Yukimura said later that she has no issue with the purpose and goals of the program but that she does have questions about its implementation.
The program website is controlled by a “misdemeanor management” company called Strategic Justice Partners, and she wanted to ask if it was a for-profit company and how the procurement process was followed.
There are also questions about contracts and community service waivers, and if defendant participants are required to pay fees to the management company by credit card, she said. There are questions about the process of contracting partners, she added.
Yukimura brought attention to what she said was a potential conflict of interest with Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i taking part in the discussion. It was not a personal attack, she said, but a response regarding the transfer of a partially grant-funded victim witness program position from the OPA to the YWCA.
Kuali‘i objected, and Yukimura responded that the potential for a conflict of interest is a matter for the Ethics Board and not one for the council to make itself.
A recess was declared three times during the heated discussion. Bynum at one point described the atmosphere as a “toxic environment.”