Hawaii County prosecutor candidate: Kelden Waltjen

  • KELDEN WALTJEN

“I’m a prosecutor. I’m not a defense attorney; I’m not a politician. If you elect me, you’re getting a prosecutor.”

Asked why he’s running to succeed mayoral candidate Mitch Roth as Hawaii County prosecutor, Deputy Prosecutor Kelden Waltjen emphasized he has spent his eight years as a practicing lawyer in the Hawaii County prosecutor’s office.

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The Hilo native graduated from St. Joseph High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and a law degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law.

“Being Hawaii Island born and raised, I just want to give back to the community that’s given to much to me. I want to make the community a safer place,” Waltjen said.

Waltjen, at 33 the youngest of three candidates, has raised and spent more funds than his opponents, by far.

As of June 30, his campaign had raised $25,453.93 and spent $22,834.54 in the nonpartisan race. His largest monetary contribution, $2,000, was made by electrical contractor James T. Yamada.

Those contributing $1,000 include: Deputy Prosecutors Andrew Son and Stephen Frye — the latter pulled nomination papers for the race but didn’t file them; Daniel Pang, an investigator in the prosecutor’s office; Gale T. Yamada, administrative services manager for the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy; elevator mechanic Burt Fujiyama; and private attorney Brian De Lima.

Professional photographer Tracey Niimi, doing business as TN Photography, is listed as contributing $3,000 in “advertising, photography and collateral media.”

Waltjen said he thinks there’s “a lot of distrust in the criminal justice system” and attributed that to the corruption cases of former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his former prosecutor wife, Katherine, as well as criminal charges filed the past few years against Big Island police officers and retired officers.

“I want to make people feel safe in their homes again, and I want them to trust the criminal justice system,” he said. “I think what we have to do to restore trust in the criminal justice system is by implementing transparency, looking at policies and procedures that we have in place, (and) making sure we are providing proper training for police officers and people in our office.”

Waltjen said he wants “stiffer penalties for repeat violent offenders,” and for “prevention, treatment and reintegration” to play a bigger role in offenders’ sentences.

“The bottom line is, the people who enter the criminal justice system — even if they get the maximum penalty — they’re going to get out,” he said. “The Hawaii Paroling Authority sets the actual minimums. We have to make sure that these offenders are able to reintegrate back into our society and they’re going to provided the right tools they need to succeed. Because if we don’t, we’re going to be right back at square one.”

Waltjen said prioritizing violent offenders and de-prioritizing nonviolent crimes can help cushion the blow from budget cuts that might be forthcoming because of reduced tax revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d be looking to see if there’s additional grant funding, keeping in mind that with budget cuts and what not, we might not be able to get certain grants, even at the federal level. But we’re going to be looking outside the box to see where we can get funding,” he said.

“The other thing is, I believe all our staff is essential and necessary for our office to operate efficiently. Our office is a team; we’re a family. If there’s one piece of the machine missing, we’re not going to be as efficient. So I would try not to go the route of cutting staff.”

Waltjen said he also wants lawyers who work strictly on appeals, to unburden those who took the cases to court.

Waltjen hasn’t been lead prosecutor at a murder trial or in any major felony cases, and has heard his opponents tout being more experienced.

“As far as I know, I’m the only candidate who has worked on a felony jury trial in this county. As far as I know, I’m the only person that has handled serious felony cases as a prosecutor in this county,” he said.

“At the same time, I like to keep things positive. I think I bring things to the table they don’t have. … I’m also the only candidate that hasn’t quit on the people of Hawaii County. The other two candidates have both quit on the people of Hawaii County as a prosecutor.

“I’m also the only candidate who has not quit on the people of other counties. It’s my understanding that Christopher Bridges left the Kauai County prosecutor’s office. He left the Hawaii County prosecutor’s office. Jared Auna has worked as a prosecutor in every county in this state, except Honolulu, all for short periods of time.

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“What I can tell you is, I’m not a quitter. I won’t quit on the people of Hawaii County.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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