"It's unfortunate that other judges want to treat political corruption like a traffic violation."

Bob Watada
State campaign spending commissioner

State high court
criticizes judge
for rejecting plea

The state Supreme Court reversed the conviction of prominent local attorney Edward Chun, saying that Circuit Judge Steven Alm abused his discretion.

In an opinion issued yesterday, the high court also said that Chun's indictment for funneling illegal political donations to former Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign was defective.

"Judge Alm abused his discretion by 'categorically refusing' to accept Chun's 'no contest' plea," the high court said.

"Discretionary action must be exercised on a case-by-case basis, not by any inflexible blanket policy of denial."

The reversal came in an unpublished opinion by the Supreme Court, which means that it has no bearing on the past and pending criminal cases involving campaign spending violations.

In yesterday's ruling the high court ordered that the case be remanded back to the Circuit Court, where it should be dismissed.

Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said the Supreme Court's decision was unfortunate, but he said he expects to refile charges against Chun once the case is sent back to the Circuit Court.

Dale Lee, Chun's attorney, declined comment.

Alm, a former federal prosecutor, has taken a tough stance on no-contest pleas, saying they allow defendants to skirt responsibility for crimes.

State Campaign Spending Commissioner Bob Watada credited Alm for recognizing the seriousness of campaign spending law violations.

"It's unfortunate that other judges want to treat political corruption like a traffic violation," Watada said.

Chun, 73, is one of the founders of the Chun Kerr Dodd Beaman & Wong law firm and is a former director of the state bar association.

He was indicted by an Oahu grand jury in May 2003 on 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 December 2003, Alm sentenced Chun to 10 days in jail and ordered him to pay a $200 fine after he pleaded guilty to the charge. The sentence was stayed pending the outcome of Chun's appeal.

In yesterday's opinion the Supreme Court said that Chun's indictment by an Oahu grand jury was flawed because prosecutors failed to specify that Chun violated the state's campaign spending laws "knowingly, intentionally or recklessly."

The Supreme Court's opinion was signed by Chief Justice Ronald Moon and Associate Justices Paula Nakayama, James Duffy, Simeon Acoba and substitute Associate Justice Shackley Raffetto.

Associate Justice Steven Levinson recused himself for unspecified reasons.

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com