UH degrees: BEd, PD ’74, JD ’78 Mānoa
Career: U.S. district attorney
Roots: Pālolo, Oʻahu
Known for: her laugh
Responsible for: a staff of 70, including 28 attorneys
Local girl Florence Nakakuni was sworn in as Hawaiʻi’s U.S. district attorney in November 2009 before a packed house of friends and family.
The first woman to serve as the state’s top ranking law enforcement official, she spent 24 years as an assistant U.S. attorney, including 4 years as chief of the Drug and Organized Crime Section.
Nakakuni was a law clerk in Hawaiʻi before serving as an attorney-advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice in the Office of Information and Privacy Appeals in Washington, D.C., a door-opening opportunity made possible by former University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa law professor Karen Czapanskiy.
“I believe our education system here in Hawaiʻi is second to none,” the Kaimukī High School alumna says. “I really got a good education at the University of Hawaiʻi, both in my undergraduate studies and law school. I am a product of our public school system and Iʻm proud of that, it served me well in my life. I had great teachers.”
Women teachers served as role models, she says. Mentors in law school included “men and women who encouraged me to develop my own identity as a woman and my style as a trial attorney.”
Nakakuni is charged with rejuvenating an office that last year filed 35 percent fewer criminal cases than the previous year—the result of transition in leadership at the federal office and three of four county police departments.
“People serving in the interim couldn’t commit to long-term goals with all the changes. Now that all the agencies have leadership in place, we can move forward with our efforts,” she says. “There’s a lot of work for me to do and I’m looking to make sure we do the right things. As federal prosecutors, we have enormous power, and with that comes a huge responsibility and obligation.”