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.
After some time away, Kaua‘i County Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri is looking to reclaim her former office.
She was the second candidate to file after the county’s current acting head of the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, Rebecca Like.
Iseri, a graduate of the University of Hawai‘i’s Richardson School of Law, is a longtime figure in Kaua‘i government, having served four years on the county council and eight as prosecuting attorney. Since leaving the OPA in 2012, she has worked as a family and criminal law attorney at her own firm, handling everything from drug and kidnapping crimes to adoptions and divorces.
In an interview, Iseri expressed that she felt she had no choice but to run against Like, who Iseri said was following in the footsteps of her predecessor, Justin Kollar, in failing the people of Kaua‘i.
“If you see your community faltering or deteriorating, and you don’t do anything about it, then that’s a sin,” Iseri said.
Iseri explained that her office would take a tough-on-crime approach, prosecuting repeat offenders and those who commit serious crimes as harshly as possible.
“I believe that they’ve become an elitist agency, that they don’t care about the impact their decisions are making,” Iseri said.
She also expressed that her belief that the county has been too eager to offer drug treatment services during the ongoing opioid crisis, saying that “drug treatment is a privilege, not a right.” She also noted that she would prioritize prosecuting drug distributors over street-level users.
During her previous stint as prosecutor, Iseri referred to the prosecution of sexually-based offenses as her “forte.” One example is the case of Eaton Rivera, Jr., who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being arrested in 2009 and charged with first-degree sexual assault for continuously molesting a six-year-old girl. Iseri’s office prosecuted the case and Rivera was convicted on 11 counts of second-degree sexual assault in 2010. Iseri said at the time that “a 10-year term is minimal considering the lifetime sentence that the victim has been subjected to by this sexual predator.”
Iseri boasts the support of Kaua‘i’s police union. Chris Calio, chair of the Kaua‘i chapter of the State of Hawai‘i Organization of Police Officers confirmed on Friday that a majority of its members voted to support her candidacy for Prosecuting Attorney.
Iseri acknowledged that the decision to run was a difficult one, as controversies from her time as Prosecutor are sure to be revived and she would have to sacrifice what she described as a lucrative career.
Dogging Iseri’s legacy are accusations of politically motivated prosecutions and allegations of discrimination. Iseri denied all those allegations, which she said were fabricated. However, documents obtained from Kaua‘i County show that six lawsuits brought against Iseri’s OPA resulted in a total of $1,687,873.80 in settlements and legal defense fees.
The OPA, under Iseri’s leadership, was also accused of politically motivated prosecution by former Councilmember Tim Bynum, who settled his case for $290,000. Former deputy prosecutor Lucas Burns testified in court at the time that he was coached by others in the office to inappropriately record Bynum in secret.
Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe eventually forced the recusal of Iseri’s entire office from Bynum’s case and referred it to the state Attorney General’s office.
Iseri herself was also accused of, among other things, promoting employees who supported her politically over more qualified candidates by now-opponent and then deputy prosecutor Rebecca Like, who settled her case for $25,000.
“There wasn’t any of this discrimination,” Iseri said. “I hired more white people than what Justin (Kollar) has ever hired, and it’s just bizarre that this turned into what it did.”
Iseri said that the lawsuits brought against her were part of a conspiracy to flood her office with lawsuits and charges of discrimination to derail her 2012 reelection bid, the goal being to prevent her from prosecuting then-Mayor Bernard Carvalho on charges of theft connected to a scandal involving the improper use of gas cards.
“All of this was planned, the lawsuits that were there,” Iseri said. “I’m almost certain that that’s the reason because they could not attack me on any of the services I had done as a prosecutor because my conviction rates were 97%.”
She maintained that every accusation made in the settlements was false and said her only failure in managing the OPA was “not hiring the right people.”
Ultimately, Iseri said that she is running to be tough on crime and bring a culture of hard work to the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.
A primary election is scheduled for Dec. 18.