KAILUA-KONA — The Hawaii County Council is expected to take up a resolution to continue covering legal fees for a former police officer appealing a negligent homicide conviction from last year.
The Office of the Corporation Counsel is requesting the council approve an additional $40,000 for special counsel to represent former Hawaii County Police Officer Jody Buddemeyer, who was found guilty by a jury in October. The former officer was sentenced to one year probation.
The charge stems from an incident that occurred on March 1, 2015, when Buddemeyer struck and killed cyclist Jeffrey Surnow on Waikoloa Road while operating his police subsidized vehicle. The County Council approved the hiring of Brian De Lima to handle the criminal case in 2017 and paid a sum of $50,000.
Buddemeyer was sentenced in November. On Dec. 28, De Lima filed an appeal on behalf of Buddemeyer.
De Lima motioned for judgment of acquittal in November, which was denied. He believes the motion should’ve been granted based on testimony from one of the doctors during trial that stated Buddemeyer suffered a neuro-cognitive disorder because of the required back-to-back schedule the former officer had worked around the time of the accident.
De Lima said the prosecution didn’t present any evidence to rebut the doctor’s findings.
“The Law Office of Brian J. De Lima has been paid for legal services that were provided prior to September 27, 2018, but will need an additional $40,000 for legal services being provided after September 27, 2018,” the resolution states.
The County Council is expected to discuss the resolution at its Tuesday meeting.
The Hawaii County Police Commission first approved legal counsel for Buddemeyer in March 2017 based on Hawaii Revised Statutes, which allows an officer prosecuted for a crime or sued in civil action for acts done in the performance of the officer’s duty as a police officer, be represented and defended by an attorney employed and paid by the county which the officer serves.
On May 3, 2017, the County Council approved the hiring of special counsel.
During the October trial, evidence showed Buddemeyer struck Surnow from behind while traveling east on Waikoloa Road in his police subsidized vehicle. The prosecution asserted throughout the trial the former officer falsely reported the crash when he called it into dispatch as a hit-and-run.
Jurors acquitted the former officer of evidence tampering and false reporting and found him guilty of negligent homicide in a lesser offense.
In November, 3rd Circuit Court Judge Melvin Fujino sentenced Buddemeyer to one year probation. Special conditions include that he be committed to the Department of Public Safety where he will be monitored for 60 days with electronic monitoring.
A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in January 2017 against the former officer by the decedent’s family. The movement on the case was slow because lawyers were awaiting the outcome of the criminal trial. Buddemeyer had faced up to a year in jail on the criminal matter and family members pleaded with the judge before sentencing to impose the harshest penalty.
Mark Davis, counsel for plaintiffs Elaine Surnow and her children Max, Sam and Lisa, said the suit lies within federal jurisdiction because his clients are not residents of Hawaii. The family is suing Buddemeyer, Hawaii County and the Hawaii Police Department for the wrongful death of husband and father.
Davis said the Surnows are aware of the appeal.
“The Surnow family is absolutely committed to seeing that justice is done,” Davis said. “Part of that has to do with criminal prosecution of the county and the second aspect is the civil action.”
Davis said Jeffrey Surnow, 63, was an athletic man who devoted much of his life to philanthropy.
“His loss is not suffered by just the family, but many organizations and families he helped through philanthropic efforts,” he said.
According to court documents, a trial is scheduled in U.S. District Court on June 25 for the civil case. However, the parties have agreed to mediation, which is currently scheduled for April 3 and 4.