The following testimony was submitted by Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth in support of HB 197 HD2 SD1 before the Senate Committee on Ways and Means
The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney for the county of Hawaii supports HB 197, HD2, SD1 and in particular funding of the proposed Kona Judiciary Complex.
Our deputy prosecutors serve at the various Kona Courthouses everyday and have seen first hand the problems in the current facilities. Although the judiciary has made improvements and do their best under the circumstances, we are deeply concerned about safety for staff, parties, jurors and witnesses. Since 2008, the Kona courts hear cases from North Kohala, South Kohala, Kona and Ka’u districts. As caseloads increase, the concerns stated below will become more pressing. We sincerely appreciate Chief Justice Recktenwald for his support for the building of the Kona Judiciary Complex.
Keakealani Building located at the old Kona hospital is the main courthouse, which houses both a circuit and district court as well as clerks offices and judiciary administration staff. It has numerous steps, which our deputies must use to enter the building, often laden with files and other equipment. Parking is scarce and efforts to obtain a dedicated stall for prosecutor and public defender were unsuccessful because of existing DAGS rules. We had one deputy fall and fracture her rib while walking with her trial box to her car, which had to be parked in the grass because there was no other parking space. She was in the midst of a felony jury trial and had to continue to work in pain.
Prisoners coming from or going to the cellblock must climb steep concrete steps in the back of the building, which is wet if it rains. We have had at least one prisoner fall with shackles, and another escape from this location. The cellblock itself is woefully inadequate. Its small space must sometimes house newly arrested defendants as well as inmates transported from the community correctional facility. There is no place for attorneys to talk to their clients or for guards to wait. ACOs set up an outdoor table under the judge’s overpass to watch the cellblock door.
There are three separate locations for Kona courthouses. In all locations, quarters are very close; resulting in jurors, parties, witnesses and families forced to intermingle in the hallways, limited waiting spaces and restrooms. During criminal proceedings, it is common for family and friends of a victim and the defendant to want to come to the courthouse and observe the proceedings. Emotions can run high and people may be distressed and desperate. Our deputies have observed jurors to appear intimidated because everyday when they arrive and leave, and at every break, these jurors must walk by supporters and family of the defendant on trial. Trials have had to halt because jurors may have inadvertently heard something improper. Deputies have been threatened by family members upset that a defendant is found guilty. The close quarters don’t provide the space needed to prevent, diffuse or react to intimidation or violence. This is not safe, and a serious incident is just a matter of time.
Preliminary hearings and trials in the Family Court at the Lender’s Documents Building are held in a room where victims must testify within six feet of the defendant, separated only by counsel table. This Family Court also hears juvenile matters, domestic violence restraining orders, divorces, and child welfare cases. These types of cases can be highly charged. The deputy sheriffs do their best to be present and prevent incidents but they cannot be everywhere and incidents nevertheless have occurred.
The fact that the courtrooms are located in three separate buildings have led to confusion with people going to the wrong location to conduct their business. Defendants who go to the wrong courthouse may be issued a bench warrant; attorneys and parties risk being sanctioned. A witness who appears in the wrong courthouse may result in a case being dismissed. The Kona community has only limited public transportation. A person with transportation issues cannot readily appear at the correct courtroom if he or she misunderstood their summons or subpoena.
The adult probation department is currently on the second floor of the Lenders Document Building, which does not have an elevator. Disabled defendants have to meet their probation officers in an alternate location. This is not acceptable.
The Kona community deserves a complex where all judiciary business is conducted in one location in a safe environment, and where lessons learned from other complexes built throughout the state may be applied. We urge this Legislature to enact H.B. 197, HD2, SD1 and support the Kona Judiciary Complex.