McGeorge alumnus answers the call to public service bringing career full circle

Steve Alm

McGeorge alumnus Steve Alm returns to lead the office where he began his career in public service

The remarkable legal journey of Steve Alm, JD '83, came full circle this January when he was sworn in as the Prosecuting Attorney for the City and County of Honolulu. A former U.S. Attorney for the state of Hawaii and Oahu First Circuit Court judge, Alm returns to lead the office where he began his career in public service.

A front-page scandal that rocked Hawaii's criminal justice system played a huge role in bringing Alm back to his old office. Felony convictions against a former deputy prosecutor and her husband, a former Honolulu police chief, resulted in lengthy federal prison sentences. Alm, who was working in Washington, D.C. at the time as a consultant to the Department of Justice, decided to return to his native state.

Alm launched a campaign with a promise to restore public confidence in the Prosecuting Attorney, the equivalent office of a district attorney in California. As the resounding victor in the November runoff election, he is now responsible for supervising criminal cases for the county of Honolulu, which encompasses the entire island of Oahu.

“I think the overall response across the whole state and the island was positive,” Alm told the Honolulu Advertiser. “People appreciated the fact that I was giving a balanced message. When I was on the bench, I was the one doing the toughest sentencing. But you don’t have to send everyone to prison.”

In 1994, when Alm was a high-level deputy prosecutor, President Clinton selected him to serve as the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii. Alm investigated and prosecuted organized crime, drug trafficking, and political corruption. But it was as a judge on the first District Court of Honolulu in 2004 that Alm made the biggest contribution to his home state. 

Befuddled by an ineffective probation system that allowed defendants to pile up violations before facing accountability, Alm instituted Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program. The program laid out immediate consequences for probation violators while providing them a stronger support system with frequent drug testing to keep them on a positive path. HOPE reduced recidivism significantly, and Alm received the state's judiciary's Jurist of the Year Award in 2010.

"The impact that he had is amazing. It (HOPE) now exists in some form in more than 30 states across the nation," Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald said when Alm retired from the bench in 2016.