Judge denies dismissal of charges against Hawaii Island mayor Billy Kenoi

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Hawaii Island mayor Billy Kenoi will go on trial in October for theft relating to alleged misuse of his county credit card.

On Friday in Hilo Circuit Court, judge Dexter Del Rosario denied his attorneys’ attempts to have the case dismissed.

Mayor Kenoi was at the hearing with his attorneys, but did not say anything at the trial and outside the courtroom.

The case stems from the mayor allegedly using what’s known as a P-Card (purchasing card) for personal purposes, which included spending hundreds of dollars at an Oahu hostess bar.

The state then charged Kenoi with multiple counts of theft.

Kenoi’s attorneys filed motions to have the charges dismissed, but the judge ruled there was not enough evidence to do that.

The attorneys argued that the mayor did not get his due process and that he’s been denied the right to a fair trial, but the judge did not see it that way.

Defense attorneys filed four motions in mid-August, asking the judge to dismiss the case. In one of them, Kenoi’s attorney say the state attorney general’s office leaked confidential information to the media which tainted the grand jury. A grand jury indicted Kenoi in March.

The attorneys also argued that during grand jury proceedings, the counsel conducting the jury acted improperly, at time cutting off a juror who wanted to ask questions, “and that puts us in an almost impossible situation,” said Richard Sing.

“We would’ve respectfully submit that by cutting off a grand juror, and by not permitting the question to be asked, that is fundamentally not fulfilling the role of grand jury counsel, and that in and of itself, is prejudice,” he said.

Deputy attorney general Kevin Takata said “I’m not a witness at grand jury. I presented evidence at grand jury. It was improper of that grand juror to address a question to me, so that was properly cut off.”

Judge Del Rosario said that Kenoi’s attorneys’ motions all deal with misconduct, either by pre-indictment or by counsel.

The defense also argued that the charges should be dropped because the rules of using the P-Card are not that clear and that the state did give adequate notice on the charges which the judge also dismissed.

Judge Del Rosario granted the state’s motion to release 40 emails from the county which discussed the use of the P-Card. We will likely get more details on those emails during the trial, which starts October 10.

Kenoi is the first mayor to stand trial on criminal charges since former Honolulu mayor Frank Fasi. In the late 1970s, bribery charges were brought against Fasi after he was accused of awarding a lucrative contract in exchange for a major campaign contribution. The trial lasted only two weeks, ending after a key witness refused to testify.

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