Judge: Honolulu must pay for former police chief’s defense

HONOLULU — A Hawaii state judge has issued a ruling requiring Honolulu taxpayers to pay the legal defense costs of the city’s former police chief, who was convicted in a federal criminal corruption and fraud case.

Honolulu city attorneys plan to appeal the decision for public payments for the defense of Louis Kealoha, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

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Kealoha and his wife, former Honolulu Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katherine Kealoha, were convicted of attempting to frame her uncle and conspiring to cover up their actions.

Louis Kealoha was sentenced last month to seven years in prison and Katherine Kealoha was sentenced to 13 years.

The Honolulu Police Commission voted in May 2019 to grant Louis Kealoha’s request for legal representation despite a recommendation against the request by Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, the city’s attorney at the time.

The Honolulu City Council sided with Leong’s position that Kealoha was not entitled to city representation and voted to have the attorney’s office challenge the commission’s decision in circuit court.

Circuit Judge James Ashford’s Dec. 2 ruling approved the city’s payment of the former chief’s legal bills.

Ashford ruled the police commission acted properly in determining taxpayers should fund Kea­loha’s legal fees. The order cited a Hawaii law stating only the police commission can determine whether an act was done in the performance of a police officer’s duty.

The city’s opposition to the decision said Kealoha’s actions were not done in the performance of his official duties, but rather “for and motivated solely by his own interests and efforts to cover up his and his wife’s misdeeds.”

The City Council Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee is expected to be briefed Wednesday by city attorneys who are likely to recommend that the council appeal Ashford’s decision to the state Intermediate Court of Appeals or the Hawaii Supreme Court.

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Councilman Ron Menor, who chairs the legal affairs committee, said Friday he agrees there is a legal basis to appeal the decision.

The city council must also authorize payment to private law firm Farm Benedict Sugihara to present the appeal because the city attorney’s office is already representing the police commission.

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