Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha wants city taxpayers to pick up the tab for his legal defense in two impending criminal trials related to corruption, conspiracy and bank fraud.

Kealoha recently made his request to the Honolulu Police Commission, which oversees the process for approving subsidized legal counsel for cops accused of wrongdoing in both civil and criminal cases.

The practice of paying for an officer’s legal defense is allowed under state law so long as the officer can prove that what they’re being accused of occurred during the course of their work as a cop.

Retired HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha leave District Court.

Retired HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha, a former city prosecutor, face a series of federal charges.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But Kealoha is already represented by Rustam Barbee, who was appointed as his public defender after he said he no longer could afford his own attorney.

And Kealoha’s former lawyer, Kevin Sumida, is the one who filed the request with the police commission on the former chief’s behalf.

“I frankly don’t know what’s going on,” Commissioner Steve Levinson said. “And I’ve been scratching my head over it because it doesn’t seem terribly likely to me that Louis would be able to retain his free lawyer at the federal level if he’s got a lawyer at city and county expense.”

Sumida has said the Kealohas owe him hundreds of thousands of dollars for past legal representation, and had even taken out a $700,000 lien on their Hawaii Kai home, which is now subject to criminal forfeiture under federal law.

Sumida used to represent the Kealohas in the criminal case along with Honolulu defense lawyers Myles Breiner and Gary Modafferi. But the three asked to be removed from the case after saying the Kealohas could no longer pay for their services.

Federal prosecutors also wanted a judge to disqualify Sumida and Breiner based on a series of conflicts of interest, including the fact that Sumida could potentially become a witness in the criminal trial.

Embattled ex HPD Police Chief attorney Kevin Sumida sits in HPD Police Commission meeting.

Kevin Sumida, right, is looking to get the city to pick up Louis Kealoha’s legal bills in two related criminal cases.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Sumida did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, were indicted along with four Honolulu police officers in October 2017 for framing a family member for the theft of their mailbox.

The Kealohas were additionally charged with a series of financial crimes, including bank fraud and identity theft. Among the victims were Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, her elder grandmother and two siblings over whom she had guardianship.

The criminal case has since split into two procedures, one involving the mailbox conspiracy and the other related to the financial crimes.

The Honolulu Police Commission is scheduled to discuss how best to proceed on the latest request from Kealoha at its Wednesday meeting, including whether to hold a contested case hearing before the public. 

The commission denied Kealoha’s request for taxpayer-funded legal counsel in a related civil lawsuit that was filed against him by Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana, who was the alleged victim of the frame job.

This news can't wait.

Every day, journalists in nonprofit newsrooms like Civil Beat dig deeper into the raw news of the day to deliver in-depth and investigative reporting that engages communities, advances solutions, and demands accountability. This news can’t wait. So why would you?

Give today and NewsMatch will double the impact of your donation. We’ll even throw in a limited-edition Civil Beat t-shirt!

About the Author