Friday, July 6, 2001

City Council
struggles with
Mirikitani scenarios

Some advocate requesting the
judge speed up the sentencing
in case he does not resign

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Convicted City Councilman Andy Mirikitani, facing the possibility of up to 65 years in prison, is expected to decide by Monday whether he will resign before his sentencing, scheduled for December.

Meanwhile, his fellow City Council members appear split on what, if anything, they should do if Mirikitani decides he wants to stay on the job until the sentencing.

A U.S. District Court jury on Tuesday found Mirikitani guilty of six criminal counts stemming from charges that he gave more than $26,000 in bonuses to two employees in exchange for $6,884 in kickbacks.

State law allows Mirikitani -- who represents the Manoa, Makiki, McCully-Moiliili and Ala Moana neighborhoods -- to stay in office pending sentencing, set for Dec. 4.

Mirikitani promised to decide by Monday if he will resign, according to Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura, who spoke to the beleaguered lawmaker for about 10 minutes yesterday.

"I told him I understand that this is a big decision," Yoshimura said. "I think he should think about it seriously over the weekend, and we promised to talk to each other on Monday."

Mirikitani's colleagues, Yoshimura said, will wait until then before deciding what actions, if any, they will take.

At least three different options are being explored, although it appeared that as of yesterday, at least, none were winning support from a majority of Mirikitani's colleagues.

One idea, to try to strip Mirikitani of any position or presence on the Council, has apparently been dismissed due to constitutionality issues revolving around concerns that his district would be deprived of any direct representation.

Instead, some Council members are shopping around a resolution that would take away all of Mirikitani's committee assignments, including his role as chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee. That plan was apparently put on hold after Mirikitani made it known that he wants until Monday to make his decision.

A third option being discussed is to ask U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor, possibly by resolution, to move up the sentencing date.

Councilman Steve Holmes, one of those who have called for Mirikitani to resign, said he is worried that Mirikitani's constituents will not be able to choose someone to fill out the remaining year of his term.

No favor for Mirikitani

A backlog in the local federal court calendar is the reason why City Councilman Andy Mirikitani could remain in office five months after his conviction.
A jury on Tuesday found Mirikitani guilty of charges he took kickbacks from two employees after giving them bonuses. He faces up to 65 years in prison and up to $1.5 million in fines. His sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 4, and state law says a person convicted of a felony is removed from office at the time of sentencing.
"Mr. Mirikitani's sentencing date is set as it is because of a heavy court calendar," said Jud Watkins, chief deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court, Hawaii division. "The District of Hawaii has a district judge vacancy, and accordingly, all judges are managing high caseloads."
Watkins added that the sentencing date is "certainly no special favor for Mr. Mirikitani."

City rules dictate a vacancy before Jan. 2, 2002, be filled by special election. A vacancy occurring after that date, however, would be appointed by the Council.

"That's not good democracy," Holmes said of the appointment scenario. While sentencing is now set for December, an appeal by Mirikitani could delay the process, Holmes said.

But pushing for an expedited sentence may not have the support of a majority of Council members.

Members Duke Bainum and John DeSoto have also called for resignation, while John Henry Felix said that only if Mirikitani asked his advice would he suggest he resign.

At least two other members, Romy Cachola and Gary Okino, said they are reluctant to tell Mirikitani what he should do at this point.

Cachola said he is not sure of the rationale behind wanting to speed up the sentencing process. "Is not letting the judicial process take its natural course the proper thing to do?"

Okino said he also is in no hurry to have Mirikitani removed.

"My main concern is whether he can continue to serve his constituents," Okino said. "And when I talk to him, his intent is to help his district. There's no question that he's been trying to do that as far as I could see."

Yoshimura declined to give his own views but said he asked others close to Mirikitani to try to counsel him.

"At this point in time, he's very alone, and he needs some words of support," Yoshimura said. "And he needs some good advice, and I'm hoping that his friends will contact him and talk to him."

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