Ladies of Justice

U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni and FBI Special Agent In Charge Vida Bottom work closely together to bring criminals to justice

Florence Nakakuni makes a federal case out of everything. Vida G. Bottom can interrogate people to the point of intimidation. But let them be. They’re just doing their jobs.

You’d want to think twice about confronting Nakakuni and Bottom, Hawaii’s two top law enforcement officers. And don’t let the high heels and lipstick fool you. Nakakuni and Bottom can be tough as the state’s first ladies of justice.

Nakakuni is our United States Attorney, appointed in 2009 by President Barack Obama to represent the government in federal court cases. Bottom is the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent in charge of the Honolulu field office, a position she was named to last May by U.S. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

In a field dominated by men, they have excelled in establishing their capability and credibility to attain leadership roles.

MidWeek put the two ladies on the scales of justice to weigh in on their background and accomplishments. What they do in the service of our country merits the spotlight.

We meet Nakakuni at her sixth floor office in the Prince Kuhio Federal Building on Ala Moana Boulevard. Bottom is at FBI headquarters in Kapolei, a four-story building surrounded by an imposing black security fence.

Unlike the Hollywood versions of FBI and U.S. Attorney encounters, we don’t break into their offices with confrontational rhetoric and guns drawn. But we couldn’t help thinking of Al Pacino in Donnie Brasco shouting, “Freeze, FBI!”

A weapon is not part of Nakakuni’s wardrobe. If Bottom is armed, she doesn’t reveal it. Of the two, Bottom is a bit more guarded with her answers. That’s understandable, considering the FBI operates under a shroud of secrecy for national security purposes.

Nakakuni is a local girl who rose through the ranks of the court system. Bottom is a newcomer to the Islands who asked for the assignment to bask in the sun and surf of a strategically positioned office.

Nakakuni lives in a world of courtroom procedure and drama. Preparation is essential. She is well-prepared for our interview, complete with case notes. She is articulate, animated and thorough as she answers questions.

“Women are adept at attention to detail,” she asserts.

Good, we thought. Let’s begin with opening statements.

MW: What’s your background? Nakakuni: I grew up in Palolo, attended Kaimuki High School, and wanted to be an English teacher. I never thought I’d go to law school and become a prosecutor. I was in the third entering class at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law. My class reflected the community with students diverse in age, cultural and social background. Law school classmates could tell you I was the last person they ever expected to be a litigator, much less a prosecutor. Some things just turn out sometimes, right?

Bottom: I come from the Bay Area of California. I am the second youngest of five children and always had an aptitude for math and science. I graduated from University of California at Los Angeles with a degree in electrical engineering, worked in engineering for a while, but in seeking more job satisfaction, fell into government service. It wasn’t planned, but it fit well for me.

MW: What was your career path? Nakakuni: I have been a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney Office in Hawaii since 1985. My legal career began as a law clerk for the late Justice Thomas Ogata of the Hawaii Supreme Court. I then worked in Washington, D.C.,