A Honolulu Police Commission decision to pay for some of former Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s legal defense in a federal corruption case should be challenged in state Circuit Court, a City Council committee recommended Thursday.
A resolution introduced by Councilman Ron Menor and Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi was unanimously approved by the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee that Menor chairs. It would instruct the Corporation Counsel, the city’s attorneys and legal advisors, to attempt to reverse the Police Commission’s decision through a court challenge.
The resolution now awaits a second reading in front of the full council.
On March 20, the Police Commission voted 4-1 to approve the payment of an undisclosed portion of Louis Kealoha’s legal fees associated with a case that is currently being tried. The commission found that he was acting in his role as police chief when he allegedly conspired to frame his wife’s uncle for the theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox.
However, the commission unanimously voted to reject Kealoha’s second request for legal counsel associated with a separate case in which he and his wife Katherine, are accused of bank and mail fraud.
It is uncertain how the Police Commission’s decision will affect the mailbox case, because the federal judge presiding over it already appointed federally funded defense attorneys.
Menor and Kobayashi first protested the commission’s decision to cover Kealoha’s legal expenses in an April 2 letter to commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan.
Menor and Kobayashi wrote that Kealoha’s alleged decision to abuse his law enforcement authority did not fall within his job responsibilities as police chief.
“The fact that Chief Kealoha was Chief of Police at the time of the alleged illegal acts does not convert Chief Kealoha’s acts to ones done in the performance of his duty as a police officer,” the letter said.
The letter noted that the Corporation Counsel concluded on two separate occasions that Louis Kealoha’s “acts were not done in the performance of his official duty.”
Menor said Thursday that if the Corporation Counsel’s appeal is successful in reversing the commission’s decision, it “could provide a helpful legal precedent that could provide guidance to the city in terms of our legal obligation to provide legal representation or to pay for outside counsel to police officers.”
Councilman Ikaika Anderson said his constituents would not be happy if they are forced to help pay for Kealoha’s legal defense.
“Those actions obviously fall outside the scope of a police officer acting in their official duties,” Anderson said.
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Joel Lau is a Civil Beat summer news intern. He grew up on Oahu and graduated from Hawaii Baptist Academy.
He is a student at Boston University, majoring in journalism and political science, and plans to return there for his sophomore year in September. Follow him on Twitter @JoelLau808.