LIHUE — The Hawaii Attorney General’s office will be taking over for county prosecutors in the case against a Kauai County Councilmember charged with hitting a police officer with his car while fleeing the scene of a traffic stop a month ago.
The Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has handled Councilman Arthur Brun’s case up to this point, charging him with two felony counts — first-degree assault against a law enforcement officer and resisting an order to stop a motor vehicle — both of which carry up to five years in jail.
But according to the minutes of a Nov. 26 court hearing, when Brun pleaded not guilty to the charges, the prosecutor representing the county informed Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe that Brun’s case was being referred to the Hawaii Attorney General’s office, “due to a conflict of interest.”
Kauai County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said via text message Tuesday that he decided to turn Brun’s case over, “Because he’s apparently not stepping down from the council, and the council has budgetary authority over our office.”
Brun, 47, of Waimea, has been a councilmember since his election in 2016 and serves as chair for the Parks & Recreation/Transportation Committee and vice chair of the Public Safety & Human Service Committee.
He was arrested on Oct. 30 after allegedly driving away after police pulled him over on Rice Street, striking an officer with his car in the process and leading police on a car chase that ended several miles away in Wailua.
Brun’s lawyer may be uniquely familiar with this type of case. He recently retained Shaylene Iseri, the county’s previous prosecuting attorney before Kollar replaced her in 2012. During her tenure, Iseri pressed charges against a member of the county council, Tim Bynum, for allegedly violating county zoning ordinances.
Watanabe presided over that case as well and eventually forced county prosecutors to turn it over to the attorney general’s office. The charges were eventually dropped, and Bynum later sued the county successfully for wrongful prosecution. He died in February 2018. Bynum’s case was unique in a number of ways, but the potential for a conflict of interest was the same one prosecutor’s now face with Brun.
Iseri, now a private practice attorney in Lihue, questioned the motive and timing behind Kollar’s decision to hand the case off to state prosecutors.
“If you have a conflict, you have a conflict from the beginning,” she said during an interview Tuesday. “Why didn’t you conflict out before you do the grand jury?”
Brun was indicted on Nov. 13 based on evidence presented by county prosecutors, but Iseri said she didn’t understand why Kollar had his staff handle the grand jury proceedings in the first place and questioned what changed between the indictment and Brun’s arraignment two weeks later.
Iseri said she will have to review the grand jury transcripts or a video of the proceedings but believes the conflict of interest that prompted Kollar to turn the case over during Brun’s arraignment was no less a factor two weeks prior and could be grounds to dismiss the indictment.
When asked why the attorney general’s office didn’t take the case from the beginning, Kollar explained that he delayed his decision to see if Brun would voluntarily resign his seat on the county council.
Iseri contends that the potential for a conflict of interest related to the prosecuting attorney’s budget is only one side of the coin, saying that Kollar should have also recused himself in order to avoid the perception that the charges against Brun were “retaliatory as opposed to something in the future.”
Brun declined to comment.