Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s request for city taxpayers to fund his legal defense in a pair of upcoming criminal trials related to corruption, conspiracy and bank fraud will be the focus of two public hearings.

The Honolulu Police Commission on Wednesday decided to schedule dual hearings but did not set a date. Both are expected to take place on the same day, however.

Kealoha, his wife and several police officers have been charged by federal prosecutors in connection with a plot to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for the theft of a mailbox — a federal crime — in order to gain leverage in a family legal dispute involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. One trial is set to begin in March and second one later in the year.

The city’s Corporation Counsel has already advised the commission to deny Kealoha’s requests for a taxpayer-funded legal defense.

In a Jan. 16 memo the city’s attorneys provided a substantive analysis of its position. That document would ultimately become a public exhibit in the contested case hearing, according to Commissioner Steve Levinson.

“Obviously the position of the city and county and former Chief Kealoha’s request are adversarial,” he said. 

Retired HPD Chief Louis Kealoha outside District Court.
Retired HPD Chief Louis Kealoha wants a taxpayer-funded attorney to defend him in a pair of federal criminal conspiracy and bank fraud cases. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kealoha already has a federally funded defense attorney in Rustam Barbee, who was appointed to represent him after he said he no longer could afford his own attorney.

Levinson said he does not understand why Kealoha would seek a city-funded lawyer when he is already getting representation paid for by federal dollars.

The commission 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.

The commission has already 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, the alleged victim of the frame job.

The Kealohas were additionally charged with a series of financial crimes, including bank fraud and identity theft. The criminal case has since split into two procedures, one involving the mailbox conspiracy and the other related to the financial crimes.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author