Editor’s note: The Prosecuting Attorney Special Primary Election will be held on Saturday, Dec. 18, and a Special General Election will be held Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022. On the ballot will be Acting Prosecuting Attorney Rebecca Like and former County Councilmember and Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri. Profiles on both candidates can be found at thegardenisland.com.
Rebecca “Becky” Like promises to build on progressive policies begun under former Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar, if elected to fill his former office.
Like (pronounced lee-kay) was named acting prosecuting attorney following Kollar’s resignation this September, after serving as second deputy prosecutor for nine of her 11 years with the Kaua‘i Office of the Prosecuting Attorney (OPA).
Like and Kollar, who endorses her candidacy, modernized filing and records systems while creating a cohesive team during that time, she said in a recent interview.
“We really made a lot of progress in cleaning up the mess that had been left behind,” she said. “… Prior to Justin taking over, there was a large amount of turnover in the office. But since we’ve been able to retain and build such a wonderful staff, we’ve really been able to have deputies focus their training and expertise on certain areas, (including) drugs, traffic, domestic violence, sex offenses.”
Kollar has called his former coworker the right person for the job.
“I’ve worked side by side with her entire throughout my entire tenure as prosecuting attorney,” he told The Garden Island. “She has management experience, the courtroom skills, the integrity and the temperament to be an excellent prosecuting attorney.”
Like claims she will continue to digitize, collate and share case data while advocating for more video hearings, in an effort to increase transparency and courtroom accessibility. She also cites plans to reduce recidivism through evidence-based diversion programs for individuals with substance abuse disorder or mental illness. Such initiatives could see qualifying persons attend mandated meetings with a physician and take medication and other steps, rather than plead guilty or go to trial.
“It results in better outcomes for those individuals, which means more public safety for our community. If we have people who are suffering with mental health and drug addiction on the streets, our community members are going to be interacting with those folks,” Like said. “It’s better to set them up for success through a program where they’re going to have housing, medical care and things like that, so that they’re not reoffending, or trespassing, or stealing, or coming into contact with the Kaua‘i Police Department.”
Widespread substance abuse is Kaua‘i’s most pressing public safety issue, according to Like, whose emphasis on the nexus between public health and public safety stems from personal experience. Like entered inpatient treatment for substance abuse issues following high school, and dealt with major depression following the birth of her first son and death of her mother from cancer.
Under Like’s leadership, the Kaua‘i OPA would promote on-island addiction treatment resources while collaborating with KPD to enforce against drug dealers, drug carriers and drug houses.
“Most recently, fentanyl overdoses have been a serious issue in our community,” Like said. “This segues back into my statement earlier about how public safety and public health overlap. It’s critical that we use medical-based treatment options for opioid addicts. Those systems set people up for success.”
KPD issued a public warning following a spate of fentanyl-related incidents this fall. At least some of those overdoses resulted in death, a department official said at the time.
Domestic violence is also pervasive in the Kaua‘i community, Like said, claiming the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem, particularly among multigenerational households.
“More and more people are stuck at home together … the kids are home from school. There’s more people in the same area unable to go out,” she explained. “There also increased stressors because of the pandemic.”
Like’s sole opponent in the upcoming election is former county prosecutor Shaylene Iseri, who Kollar ousted from office in the 2012 elections. Like filed suit against Iseri that same year, claiming her employer had retaliated after Like did not openly support Iseri’s own candidacy.
Like confirmed the case has been settled, but could not comment on the terms of the settlement.
“Shay’s history, it speaks for itself. I would encourage readers to just do a cursory Google search for her, to get an idea of the kind of legacy she left when she left our office,” Like said. “It’s taken a long time to clean up that mess, and I’ve been in the office doing that work during this time.”
A primary election is scheduled for Dec. 18.