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Two attorneys, who will be paid with taxpayer dollars, have been appointed to defend former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, in a wide-ranging conspiracy case that includes allegations of bank fraud, obstruction of justice and identity theft.
According to federal court records, Honolulu defense attorney Rustam Barbee will represent Louis Kealoha. Cynthia Kagiwada, of Kaneohe, will defend Katherine Kealoha, deputy city prosecutor. Each attorney will be paid $132 per hour.
Barbee and Kagiwada will replace the Kealohas’ long-time attorneys, Myles Breiner and Kevin Sumida, both of whom asked to be removed from the case because they said the couple could no longer afford their services.
A third attorney, Gary Modafferi, of Las Vegas, who briefly represented Louis Kealoha, also withdrew from the case for similar reasons.
Barbee has been practicing criminal defense law in Hawaii since 1989 and has worked as a federal public defender both here and in Guam.
Before moving to Hawaii, Barbee worked as a prosecutor for the Wisconsin attorney general, specializing in white collar crime, fraud and embezzlement. As a federal defender he took on numerous criminal cases, including those involving drugs and murder.
Barbee declined to comment on the specifics of his representation of Louis Kealoha, saying only that he’s in the beginning stages of reviewing the case.
“After over 30 years of protecting and serving the community, ex-chief Kealoha has earned the presumption of innocence and benefit of the doubt,” Barbee said.
Kagiwada, who was admitted to the Hawaii State Bar in 2003, declined to comment about her appointment as Katherine Kealoha’s attorney.
Like Barbee, Kagiwada is a member of the federal indigent defense panel, which the courts turn to when a defendant does not have the financial resources to pay for their own defense.
A federal judge ruled last week that the Kealohas cannot afford to pay for their own legal counsel, in large part because of the debt they owe on their Hawaii Kai home.
U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright said that much of Louis Kealoha’s pension, which is estimated to be worth about $150,000 a year plus benefits, goes toward paying the mortgage on the house. That leaves the couple strapped for money.
Katherine Kealoha is currently on unpaid leave from the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Seabright did not mention anything about a $250,000 lump sum severance payment Louis Kealoha received from the Honolulu Police Commission after he was named the target of a U.S. Justice Department corruption investigation.
He did note, however, that the Kealohas still might have to pay for some of their legal fees once the case is resolved.
The Kealohas were indicted in October along with four Honolulu police officers for taking part in the alleged framing of Gerard Puana, who is Katherine Kealoha’s uncle.
According to the indictment, the Kealohas and the officers worked to set up Puana for the theft of the Kealoha’s mailbox in 2013. They’re also accused of trying to cover their tracks by lying to federal investigators about the alleged conspiracy.