Friday, February 8, 2002

Jon Yoshimura, left, and his attorney William Harrison appeared yesterday in front of the Disciplinary Board hearing.

Panel recommends
Yoshimura be
suspended from
law for 6 months

The case now goes to the Supreme
Court for a final decision

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

A disciplinary panel has recommended City Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura be suspended from practicing law for six months for lying about a 1999 traffic accident.

The Hawaii Supreme Court must now decide whether to follow the recommendation of its Disciplinary Board, which oversees the conduct of attorneys. According to all sides involved in the proceeding, the court usually follows the board's recommendations.

"This has been what amounts to a three-year nightmare for me," said Yoshimura. "I made a mistake and I'm sorry."

Yoshimura, who has said he will run for lieutenant governor as a Democrat, added, "I am an honest man, and I just can't believe the damage that this incident that I got myself into, I can't believe the damage it has done to my reputation."

In July 1999, Yoshimura hit a parked, unoccupied Nissan Pathfinder with his Mercedes-Benz on Auahi Street fronting Ward Centre and left the scene.

Yoshimura initially told reporters he thought he had hit a utility pole and continued home.

Last August, two years after the incident, Yoshimura acknowledged at a news conference that he had lied when he told reporters he did not drink before the accident.

The staff of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which initiated the case against Yoshimura, had recommended that he be suspended for a year and a day. That would require him to ask to be reinstated to the bar and show proof of rehabilitation.

However, a three-member subcommittee of the board recommended that the suspension be for a month.

The decision to recommend a six-month suspension was made behind closed doors by the full 18-member board. However, the arguments were public.

Brian Means, assistant disciplinary counsel, told the board that "dishonest men should not be entitled to practice law."

Means said that Yoshimura not only left the scene of an accident and lied to reporters, he also lied three times in written statements to the disciplinary counsel.

A year-and-a-day suspension is deserved, Means said, because it would require him to "demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that he is no longer a dishonest man and therefore deserving of the privilege to practice law."

William Harrison, Yoshimura's attorney, argued that a one-year, one-day recommendation would be "draconian" since Yoshimura never denied making a mistake and then took full responsibility for his actions by apologizing publicly for his dishonesty.

Yoshimura said the suspension should not affect him financially. He has not practiced law in several years, and his license is on inactive status.

A challenge to the board's recommendation is still possible.

Means said he would wait until he sees the board's official report before deciding whether to pursue the matter further.

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