J.D. Kim: Three decades of seeking justice

*Editor’s Note*: This is part of a series of profiles of Mayor Michael Victorino’s appointees to Maui County department head positions. The Maui County Council is reviewing Mayor Victorino’s nomination’s in the Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee.

Maui County’s acting Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim recalled making his first plea agreement with his wife over 30 years ago before stepping foot into the Wailuku Courthouse.

"If she followed me to law school, I would find a job on Maui," Kim said laughing. "That was the deal."

Their deal led to Kim’s three decades of service to the island as a deputy prosecutor, deputy attorney general and deputy corporation counsel. He has served as the county’s top prosecutor since 2011.

While Kim has risen through department’s ranks over the years, he took a circuitous route to the courtroom, which began on the west shores of Oahu.

Born in Pennsylvania, but raised on Oahu in the small town of Makaha, Kim spent most of his youth body surfing at the beach and fishing around Mauna Lahilahi. Some days he would wake up at 5 a.m. to walk down to the ocean and surf-cast for papio.

"I’d catch it, clean it and mom would fry it," he said. "She always said a good fisherman knows how to clean a fish and that’s what we did."

Kim would go on to graduate from the University of Hawaii, with a degree in Zoology and worked several different jobs from construction laborer to merchant seaman. In 1980, he took a job as a lab assistant for the Department of Water Supply, then a year later became a water chemist at Kahului Wastewater Treatment Plant, and at the same time he applied to different law schools.

"My father always wanted me to be a lawyer," Kim said of his father, who was a dentist. "He kept pushing me in that direction so I gave it a shot."

Kim earned his Juris Doctorate from Temple University School of Law and returned to the Valley Isle – maintaining his promise to his wife, Catherine, of 37 years. His wife serves as president, general manager and ice cream maker for Maui Soda & Ice Works. Ltd.

The couple has raised three children: Michael, Ethan and Kaitlin. All three shared their father’s affinity for sports, with Ethan and Kaitlin capturing Maui Interscholastic League gold medals in pole vaulting and discus, respectively.

"They’re better athletes than me," Kim joked, noting his time as an offensive lineman for Wai’anae High School. "They probably got it from my wife."

Outside of work, Kim has volunteered for various nonprofits and organizations, including Maui Cattleman’s Association and St. Anthony School. He also has spent the last 10 years as a member of the  Maui Football Officials Association.

As Maui County’s top prosecutor, Kim said his ultimate goal is to always seek justice.

"You realize how much responsibilities you have," he said. "Every prosecutor knows we’re in a unique position, and we’re not here to convict at all costs. We have to look at all aspects of each case and strive to seek justice."