For the past two years, the relationship between the city and county’s legal counsel and the Honolulu Police Commission has been anything but smooth.

In 2017, the commission was sued after it met in secret regarding then-Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s future when he and his wife became suspects in a federal corruption case. Commissioners did so based on interpretation by the city’s legal counsel of the state’s open records law.

And in the past year, the commission has moved to better define when officers are entitled to taxpayer funded legal help after determining that the city’s legal adviser may have incorrectly denied legal counsel to officers accused in criminal and civil complaints.

“We’ve encountered a lot of resistance in this office,” said Loretta Sheehan, the commission chair.

Sheehan hopes Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s newest appointee to the seven-member commission — Carrie Okinaga — will help foster better relations with the Department of Corporation Counsel.

Carrie Okinaga is expected to become the newest member of the Honolulu Police Commission. Dan Zelikman/Civil Beat

Okinaga, the University of Hawaii’s general counsel, is expected to replace longtime commissioner Max Sword, who resigned this summer. From 2005 to 2011, Okinaga was corporation counsel for the City and County of Honolulu.

Her appointment received preliminary approval from the City Council today.

Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated Okinaga was being sworn in as a police commissioner Wednesday.

“I think her history as corporation counsel is a strength,” Sheehan said.  “We’re looking to improve our relationship with corporation counsel and we think Carrie can do it.”

Okinaga was a longtime board member for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and has also served as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of First Hawaiian Bank. She will serve the remainder of Sword’s term, which expires Dec. 31, 2020.

Sword notified Caldwell’s office this summer he wished to step down from the commission to give more attention to his own business projects.

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