KAILUA-KONA — It’s been one year since Robert Kim was sworn in as the 3rd Circuit Court’s newest judge.
On Nov. 21, 2017, the longtime criminal defense attorney took the gavel before a packed courthouse and highlighted in his speech the absolute importance of law and judicial independence.
He filled the void left by the retirement of Judge Ronald Ibarra, who ruled so respectably over his 28 years on the bench, we suspect the new Kona courthouse under construction will one day bear his name.
“Everybody noted I had big shoes to fill,” Kim told West Hawaii Today after his inauguration ceremony. “I just want to make sure I do the right thing.”
New jobs — or robe in this case — come with learning curves. Nonetheless, Kim has already presided over some high profile cases in West Hawaii. He has overseen plenty of smaller ones as well, but 365 days is enough time to notice a pattern.
For better or worse, the judge isn’t afraid to lower a suspect’s bail.
The reason our eyebrows are raised in early concern, however, is because some of those bails pertain to horrific crimes — the cold-blooded murder of a police officer and the brutal rape of a young woman in the heart of Kailua-Kona.
On Monday, Kim lowered bail for Mokihana Veincent from $500,000 to $50,000 and Jamie Jason’s bail was reduced from $1 million to $100,000. Both are accused of assisting Justin Waiki while he was on the lam from authorities over the summer after reportedly shooting and killing Hawaii Police Officer Bronson Kaliloa in Mountain View on July 17.
Seven people, including Jason and Veincent, have been indicted for assisting Waiki in evading law enforcement during a weeklong islandwide search for the 33-year-old.
Four of the accomplices were in the car with Waiki before they encountered police July 20 — including Jason — preceding the fatal gun fight that also injured Jason and another officer.
Kim’s reduced bail dramatically for five of them. To be fair, none of them pulled the trigger, but some of them are facing attempted murder charges.
“The court must consider the financial ability of a person charged with a crime. Bail has to be attainable,” the judge explained on Monday. “Bail is not used to keep people locked up when they’re charged with a crime.”
He cited Hawaii Revised Statute 804-9 which states, paraphrased, exactly that: It shouldn’t be used as a way to keep the poor among the accused punished before a conviction. But it also says bail is at the judge’s discretion.
Discretion is what Kim exercised when he lowered bail for Samuel Latrik, one of two teens accused (the other teen is already convicted) of brutally raping a young woman Sept. 3, 2016.
Latrik’s bail was dropped to $25,000 from $250,000 originally because a district court judge lowered bail on the other suspect, who was younger, 17 at the time, prior to Kim taking up the 18-year-old Latrik’s case. When he did, Kim essentially matched what the other court did — a lowering for consistency sake, so to speak.
Then, Latrik made bail but violated it soon thereafter by not checking into the Hawaii Intake Service Center as required. As punishment for the violations, he was granted house arrest, despite strong objections from prosecutors. After violating that by wandering off when the accused rapist wasn’t supposed to, Kim finally reimposed the $250,000 bail.
There are other, smaller examples that piqued our interest. John Haley, who was charged for selling drugs out of a downtown Kailua-Kona moped business, was recently granted supervised released at the recommendation of Hawaii Intake Service Center.
But the cases above are worth pointing out because ones tied to a murder and rape are as serious as it gets in the criminal world.
Pertaining to the defendants in the officer shooting case, on Monday there was already talk in the courtroom that some would bail out soon, so the judge’s goal of lowering it as a way not to punish the indigent looks like it’s going to be reached.
We point this out not to question the former criminal defense attorney’s knowledge of the law, rather to point out a trend we’ve noticed after the first year — one that’s worth keeping an eye on.
Because if cases tied to murder and rape can’t keep a suspect behind bars, the question is worth following, what will?