Three former Honolulu officials charged with engaging in a conspiracy had hoped a judge would determine their fates but will instead face a jury of their peers sometime this fall, U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi said Thursday.

Former city attorney Donna Leong, former police commission chairman Max Sword and former managing director Roy Amemiya, who all appeared in the Honolulu court on Thursday, pleaded not guilty earlier this year.

Federal prosecutors say the trio coordinated to deliver a $250,000 retirement package to the now-imprisoned police chief Louis Kealoha in 2017.

Former HPD Police Commissioner Max Sword leaves District Court.
Former police commission chairman Max Sword, left, appeared in court on a conspiracy charge. Thomas Otake, right, represents one of Sword’s co-defendants, former city counsel Donna Leong. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

At the time, Kealoha was under federal investigation for corruption, and prosecutors allege the defendants worked to circumvent a required Honolulu City Council vote.

Last month, the defendants requested a bench trial, which would have left the verdict up to Kobayashi. Legal experts say bench trials are generally preferred by defendants who don’t believe they can win over a jury.

But federal rules require that for a bench trial to proceed, prosecutors must agree. And the prosecution in this case denied the request, according to a filing from San Diego Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin McDonald this week.

“As with every case, the United States expects the defendants will receive an impartial trial by jury, which is their constitutional guarantee,” he wrote.

At the court appearance on Thursday, defense attorneys acknowledged that their bench trial request is now moot.

A trial had been scheduled for June 13 but will instead take place in October, if not later, after the parties agreed to a continuance.

Kobayashi instructed the attorneys to come up with deadlines for motions, come to the court with any discovery-related issues and to estimate how many days they will need to present their case.

Lynn Panagakos, Leong’s attorney, said she has had difficulty obtaining some records from the government because the government alleges they are “privileged.” She said pre-trial disclosure is required under Brady v. Maryland, a Supreme Court case that requires prosecutors to disclose information that points to a defendant’s innocence.

“These documents are the highest priority to our defense,” she told the court. “They’re resisting more so than they should be under the circumstances.”

Kobayashi asked the attorneys to submit letters to the court arguing their positions on the document dispute.

In court, Panagakos didn’t specify what those documents are. She declined to comment outside the courthouse and did not respond to a phone message.

The federal corruption investigation that led to the indictment of Leong, Sword and Amemiya is ongoing.

Hawaii News Now reported the grand jury convened by the San Diego prosecutors heard from Gary Kurokawa, former Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s chief of staff, last week. Caldwell, who had been actively campaigning for governor, dropped out of the race the day before Kurokawa’s testimony.

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