A state judge ruled that the Honolulu Police Commission erred when it refused to hire an attorney for one of the officers accused of framing the uncle of prosecutor Katherine Kealoha for the theft of her mailbox.

Judge Keith Hiraoka ruled Friday that HPD Officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen is entitled to a defense provided by the city because he was sued in a civil action for “acts done in the performance of duty as a police officer.”

Hiraoka’s decision overturns the commission’s decision last year to deny Nguyen legal counsel paid for by taxpayers.

Minh-Hung Bobby Nguyen arrives with attorney to District Court.
Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen challenged the Police Commission’s decision to deny him legal assistance. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Nguyen and another officer, Daniel Sellers, were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana.  That lawsuit will proceed after a federal corruption case against the Kealoha, her husband, Louis, and other officers goes to trial.

In the lawsuit, Puana accused Nguyen and Sellers of conspiring with Katherine Kealoha to frame him for the theft of her mailbox. He’s suing the two officers; his niece; her husband, the former Honolulu police chief, as well as three retired officers: Dru Akagi, Walter Calistro and Niall Silva.

Sellers asked the commission for legal representation and was granted it. But Nguyen’s request was denied.

Police Commission Chair Loretta Sheehan said that while the judge’s decision will be discussed at the commission’s meeting Wednesday, she doubted it would be appealed.

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