- Special Projects
Cynthia Kagiwada no longer wants to be Katherine Kealoha’s court-appointed defense lawyer due to ethical concerns.
Kagiwada filed a series of motions Tuesday in which she asked U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright if she could withdraw as Kealoha’s attorney in three separate criminal cases involving allegations of conspiracy, obstruction, bank fraud and drug trafficking.
Kealoha was found guilty last week along with her husband, retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, of framing her uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of her mailbox in 2013.
Two Honolulu police officers, Derek Hahn and Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, were also convicted.
Kagiwada’s motions said there “appears to be an irretrievable breakdown in the attorney-client relationship, which cannot be reconciled.”
She also cited a number of ethical concerns governed by the Hawaii Rules of Professional Conduct, which all lawyers must abide by to remain in good standing.
Specifically, she pointed to three rules, including one that said a lawyer can drop a client if that client “insists upon taking action that the lawyer considers repugnant or with which the lawyer has a fundamental disagreement.”
Kagiwada also noted provisions related to instances in which a client “fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer’s services” and “other good cause.”
Kagiwada did not provide any details in her motion about her disagreements with Kealoha, who is a former city prosecutor.
Kagiwada also did not respond to a Civil Beat request for comment.
The friction between Kagiwada and Kealoha became evident during last month’s criminal trial.
Kealoha and her family hired an outside lawyer, Earle Partington, to join the case mid-trial, on the same day federal prosecutors finished presenting most of their evidence.
Partington had said his main role in the case was preparing Kealoha’s civil lawyer, Kevin Sumida, for the witness stand. Partington called Sumida to testify about his role in a lawsuit filed against Kealoha by her uncle and grandmother, Florence Puana.
Partington told Civil Beat on Tuesday that he was surprised by Kagiwada’s motion and did not know what her specific concerns were in regards to representing Kealoha.
“I knew nothing about it and I don’t believe Kat knew anything about it either,” Partington said of Kagiwada’s motion. “(Kagiwada) was very unhappy when I came into the case and made her feelings known by refusing to generally cooperate with me.
“It was obvious I was brought in because Kat was unhappy with her representation.”
Partington said he met with Kealoha over the weekend at the Federal Detention Center, where she is being held until her October sentencing.
He said she was in good spirits given the situation. He also noted that Kealoha is in need of cancer treatment, but that her condition is “not imminently threatening.”
Kenneth Lawson, who teaches criminal law and ethics at the University of Hawaii, said Kagiwada’s motion is extraordinary in that she specifically cites sections of the Rules of Professional Conduct.
Normally, he said, lawyers will be intentionally vague when they file motions to withdraw so as not to hurt their client’s chances in the courtroom.
“For Cynthia Kagiwada to do this she’s sending a strong message,” Lawson said. “Something’s not right in Denmark.”
Lawson said Kagiwada also needs to be careful that her client isn’t laying a trap so that she can file an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel.
Based on what Kealoha was convicted of — crimes that show her trying to manipulate the justice system — he said Kagiwada needs to be even more diligent.
“Kat hasn’t surrendered yet,” Lawson said. “She’s still finding a way to win on appeal.”
A hearing on Kagiwada’s motion is scheduled for July 11.
On Monday, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to block Katherine Kealoha from practicing law due to her recent conviction.
There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing unbiased, factual, honest journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?