Campaign case
nets guilty plea

Edward Chun could get
jail time in the inquiry into
political gifts to Harris

Edward Chun, a partner in a Honolulu law firm, faces possible jail time after pleading guilty yesterday to making illegal campaign donations to Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Appearing before state Circuit Judge Steven Alm, Chun withdrew his not guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of advising two employees of Food Pantry Ltd. to each contribute $1,000 over the legal limit to the Harris campaign. In return, prosecutors agreed to drop a charge that Chun attempted to make contributions under false names.

Attorney Edward Chun, 71, is the first person to plead guilty as a result of the city prosecutor's 19-month criminal investigation into illegal contributions to Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign.

Chun, 71, is the first person to plead guilty as a result of the city prosecutor's 19-month criminal investigation of the Harris campaign and could be the first sentenced to jail. Chun, who will be sentenced Nov. 24, also could lose his license to practice law.

"It's unfortunate that Mr. Chun, being a distinguished attorney in the City and County of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii, is the person involved here," said Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee. "But nevertheless, the standard is right and wrong and, if he's violated the law, he should be prosecuted. If anything, this guilty plea validates what we've been doing all along: If you violate the campaign spending laws, you will be prosecuted."

During a July 10 status conference, Alm indicated that Chun could face up to 10 days in jail if he pleads guilty, according to Dale Lee, Chun's lawyer.

Previous targets of the investigation -- SSFM International Inc. Chief Executive Officer Michael Matsumoto and Controlpoint Surveying Inc. President Alden Kajioka -- have pleaded no contest to similar charges and were given a chance by other judges to have their criminal cases dismissed if they stay out of trouble.

Based on Alm's comments, Chun sought the judge's disqualification. Alm denied the motion on Monday, saying such pre-plea discussions do not indicate a personal bias.

Dale Lee said yesterday that Chun is reserving his right to file a appeal with the state Supreme Court over Alm's decision not to disqualify himself. If such an appeal were successful, Chun could withdraw his guilty plea, his attorney said.

Chun, a founding partner in Chun Kerr Dodd Beaman & Wong, has practiced law in Hawaii for more than 40 years. He is also a longtime corporate counsel for local grocery chain Food Pantry Ltd. and a former director of the state bar association.

On May 20, an Oahu grand jury indicted Chun for advising two low-level Food Pantry employees to donate $5,000 to the Harris campaign in 1996 and 2000.

In his plea agreement, Chun admitted that he advised the employees to make the excessive contributions and was unaware that it violated the law. But Chun conceded that he acted recklessly by not consulting the state's campaign finance laws before giving the advice.

Although Food Pantry provided the money for the contributions, prosecutors said the company is not a target of their investigation because the donations were made without the Food Pantry's knowledge or approval.

The company's top executives were not asked by Chun to contribute to the Harris campaign because Chun wanted them to stay off a "mooch list" kept by various local campaign officials for potential donors, Dale Lee said.

Under state law, a donor can give no more than $4,000 to a candidate in a mayoral race. Donors also are barred from making political donations under false names.

Randal Lee previously said Chun had been solicited by a Harris campaign worker, whom he declined to name. He said yesterday that Chun is cooperating with his investigation.

Bob Watada, executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, said Chun's case sends a message to donors who violate Hawaii's campaign finance laws.

The prospect of jail time will likely motivate companies under investigation to settle their case, said Watada, whose office has issued more than $600,000 in fines over the past two years to more than 60 local companies making illegal campaign contributions.

"The message is that they better work out a deal," Watada said.


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