A Circuit Court judge on Friday says he will overturn the verdict in the civil lawsuit that awarded Katherine Kealoha more than $600,000 from her uncle and 100-year-old grandmother nearly five years ago.
The case is at the heart of the U.S. Justice Department’s years-long criminal corruption investigation in the Honolulu Police Department, the Honolulu County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and even the city administration.
In March 2013, the Puanas filed a lawsuit accusing Kealoha of financial fraud and elder abuse. Federal prosecutors say that it was Kealoha trying to gain leverage in the civil case that led Kealoha, her husband, Louis Kealoha — then the Honolulu police chief — and a number of HPD officers to stage the theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox in an effort to discredit Gerard Puana with a federal felony theft charge.
The Kealohas and several police officers were ultimately convicted earlier this year of conspiracy and obstruction after an investigation that spanned at least five years.
But in February 2015, before the extent of the conspiracy was clear, Katherine Kealoha convinced a civil jury that she had not stolen from her uncle and grandmother. In fact, the jury awarded her $658,000 that was to be paid by the Puanas.
On Friday, State Circuit Judge James McWhinnie sided with the Puanas that events that have taken place since the civil case show there are sufficient grounds to overturn the civil verdict. Procedurally, the case is already before the Intermediate Court of Appeals and needs to be sent back to the lower court.
“It’s long overdue that the judgment is now going to be vacated,” said attorney Eric Seitz, who represents the Puanas now. “And our clients are hopefully going to receive some of that money back.”
More than $100,000 had already been taken out of the Puanas’ account to satisfy the civil judgment.
Seitz said in an interview that he and his clients would try to recover as much money as they can, and that the amount would be in the several hundred thousand dollar range.
“We’re somewhat skeptical that Katherine has any resources to pay, but we will do whatever we can to recoup,” Seitz said.
Kevin Sumida, who formerly represented Katherine Kealoha in her civil cases, has submitted motions to withdraw as her legal counsel. He declined to comment Friday and said he does not give statements.
It’s unclear who would replace Sumida in representing Kealoha in civil cases. Seitz said he has not been informed either.
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