Bill would have given bad cops free lawyers
Gov. Linda Lingle has vetoed a bill that would guarantee public attorneys for all police officers accused of crimes while on duty.
Two years ago, three Honolulu police officers were arrested and prosecuted for alerting a cockfighting ring to upcoming raids. Under a bill passed by the Legislature, taxpayers would be required to provide attorneys for such bad apples as a show of support for police. Gov. Linda Lingle has properly vetoed the bill.
Hawaii law already states that a police officer charged with a crime or sued for acts done in the performance of the officer's duty is provided a public attorney if approved by the county police commission. The bill would have assured legal representation in all cases.
"Thus," Lingle stated in her veto message, "an officer who, while on patrol, engaged in a drug deal or robbed a bank, would have an absolute entitlement to a county-paid attorney if criminally charged with possession of an illegal substance or bank robbery."
Rep. Blake Oshiro, vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill was intended as a show of support to police officers. Oshiro said the county police departments are responsible for ensuring that they recruit and hire officers of strict moral character. In other words, if a clever recruit is able to pass muster, he is assured free legal representation for any crime he wants to commit.
Lingle recognizes that officers need to be provided counsel for activities that are within the scope of duty leading to "confrontational situations" from which allegations of wrongdoing might arise. The bill would have gone far beyond that.
The governor said she understood that the police officers' union and the counties have been at work crafting language that "addresses the concerns of the counties, while ensuring representation for police officers when it is truly warranted." Those talks should continue to fruition.
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