Reporter’s notebook: An inside look at the Kealoha trial

HONOLULU — There’s a reason the only recent news images of former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, show the couple outside the U.S. District Court building, where they are on trial for federal conspiracy and corruption charges.

Unlike in state Circuit Courts in Hawaii, recording devices are prohibited inside federal courts across the United States.

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So newspaper and television photographers are left to try to catch the Kealohas as they enter and exit the Halekauwila Street side of the federal building.

That bit of information answers only one of the many questions surrounding media coverage of the Kealoha trial, which so far has taken up 12 days.

The proceedings take a one-week recess starting today, giving Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters the opportunity to empty their notebooks and report some of the less news-worthy — but still interesting — aspects of one of the most sensational trials in island history.

For instance, it was revealed Thursday that HPD officers referred to Louis Kealoha as “No. 1” when he was chief of police.

Letha DeCaires, a Honolulu Ethics Commission investigator — and a former HPD captain — recorded an interview with one of the defendants, retired HPD Maj. Gordon Shiraishi, in 2015 and asked how — and at what time — he found out the Kealohas’ mailbox had been stolen in June 2013.

“So, No. 1 called you about 9?” DeCaires asked in a recording of the interview.

Turns out “No. 1” is commonly used to refer to whoever is police chief, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu wrote in an email to the Star-Advertiser. “It is not specific to Kealoha. (Current Chief Susan) Ballard is the current ‘No. 1’ and the two deputy chiefs are known as ‘No. 2’ and ‘No. 3.’” The designations coincide with their badge numbers.

For those who can’t be there in person, and without the benefit of photos or video, here’s a word picture of the fourth-floor courtroom of U.S. Chief Justice Judge J. Michael Seabright, who is presiding over the Kealoha trial:

Hawaii’s federal courtrooms are much larger and more opulent than their state Circuit Court counterparts. The ceilings are higher and every wall is covered in rich, carpet-to-ceiling wood paneling. The lighting that flows out of the wood-decorated ceilings is brighter and the off-white seats are bigger, softer and in better shape.

Seabright oversees the trial from his bench at the front of the courtroom under an enormous seal that reads: “United States District Court District Of Hawaii.”

A clerk announces “all rise for the jury”and the men and women who comprise the 12-member jury and five alternates file into the jury box as everyone else stands for them. Seabright then enters the courtroom and everyone stands again.

Each of the five defendants is represented by one attorney. Even the Kealohas have separate counsel.

There are so many defendants and their attorneys — 10 in all — that thick wooden desks have been arranged in an “L” shape to accommodate everyone.

Co-defendant Lt. Derek Wayne Hahn, the Kealohas and their three attorneys all face Seabright. Shiraishi and fellow co-defendant HPD officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and their attorneys sit facing the jurors.

To the right of the Kealohas is an identical, thick wooden desk where the prosecution team out of San Diego sits. Two of the three assistant U.S. attorneys typically share the desk with one of their paralegals, while the third attorney rotates in and out from seats behind, depending on the topic before the court.

The prosecutors who make up what’s often referred to as “The Government” or “The United States” side of the trial appear in court in dark business suits.

It’s not as predictable on the defense side.

On Friday, Hahn appeared in an aloha shirt and white athletic shoes. Louis Kea­loha had on a tan sport coat and his wife wore a dark print dress.

Nguyen stands out for his consistent fashion choice of open-collar, short-sleeved shirts under a variety of hoodies in different colors.

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At one point during his testimony last week, Katherine Kealoha’s estranged uncle, Gerard Puana, was asked if he could identify Nguyen and describe what he was wearing.

Puana pointed at the police officer and said, “Looks like a hoodie, a dark gray hoodie.”

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