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Katherine Kealoha appeared in U.S. District Court on Thursday for the first time since Judge J. Michael Seabright revoked her bail and sent the former prosecutor to the Federal Detention Center.
She wore a white prison jumpsuit, blue shoes and leg shackles. She also sported a smile.
“I love the outfit,” said Earle Partington, one of Kealoha’s defense lawyers, as she ambled through the courtroom. “Very chic.”
“Thank you,” Kealoha grinned as she gestured toward her clothes and waved at her husband, retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, who was also in the courtroom.
The Kealohas were both convicted last month of conspiracy and obstruction for the attempted framing of Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of their mailbox.
Two Honolulu police officers, Derek Hahn and Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, were also found guilty in the trial. Two other officers had previously pleaded guilty to being involved in the conspiracy.
On Thursday, Seabright held a hearing to determine whether Katherine Kealoha’s court-appointed attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, should be allowed to withdraw as Kealoha’s counsel over what she described in court papers as ethical concerns.
After a brief closed door hearing, he allowed her to step aside. He said he will now try to find a new counsel for her two upcoming trials, one involving alleged bank fraud and identity theft and the other alleged drug trafficking.
Seabright said finding a new attorney will take time given so many defense lawyers on the list of eligible public defenders already represent people associated with the case, which has grown into one of the largest public corruption scandals in state history.
He said he would not delay Kealoha’s sentencing, which is currently scheduled for October.
Kagiwada had filed a series of motions July 2 to remove herself as Kealoha’s attorney because, she said, there “appears to be an irretrievable breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.”
Kealoha told Seabright she was surprised that Kagiwada wanted to withdraw as her attorney and had “no idea” it was coming.
“I heard about it on the news,” Kealoha said.
Partington told Seabright he intends to remain as Kealoha’s counsel at least through sentencing. He also said he would likely help with a future appeal.
“I will not be doing the other cases,” Partington said. “There appears to be no more money left from her family.”
After the hearing, Partington filed a motion for a new trial, citing ineffective assistance of counsel on the part of Kagiwada.
Partington told reporters Kagiwada didn’t do enough to impeach the credibility of the U.S. Justice Department’s star witnesses — Gerard and Florence Puana.
During the trial, government prosecutors laid out how the motive behind the framing of Gerard Puana was a lawsuit he and his mother had filed against Katheine Kealoha several months before.
That lawsuit accused Kealoha of financial fraud and elder abuse.
In particular, they said she duped them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars via shady investment deals and a reverse mortgage on Florence Puana’s home.
Prosecutors said Kealoha then spent the money on lavish gifts for her and her husband, including a Maserati and a $24,000 party at the Sheraton Waikiki to celebrate Louis Kealoha’s promotion to police chief.
Partington, however, said that narrative is undercut by the fact that a jury sided with Katherine Kealoha in a civil lawsuit and awarded her more than $600,000 in damages, a decision that is now on appeal.
“They were the critical witnesses,” Partington said of the Puanas.
“The jury believed them, and they believed them because there was no impeachment of them at the trial and there was a lot of evidence out there to impeach them.”
Another problem with Kagiwada’s representation, Partington said, is her refusal to call Alison Lee Wong to the witness stand.
The government repeatedly presented evidence to the jury that Wong was in fact an alias used by Katherine Kealoha to carry out various criminal enterprises and advance her career, including her gubernatorial appointment to the Hawaii Office of Environmental Quality Control.
The defense provided no evidence to show that Wong was a real person.
Even Seabright, when he revoked Kealoha’s bail, noted that Alison Lee Wong was Katherine Kealoha and vice versa.
“There really is an Alison Lee Wong,” Partington said Thursday. “We know where she is.”
Partington said Wong used to work for Kealoha and that she now lives in Kaneohe. When asked if he had ever met her, he said he had not.
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