Nick Grube – Honolulu Civil Beat https://www.civilbeat.org Honolulu Civil Beat - Investigative Reporting Tue, 23 Apr 2019 10:01:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.0.3 Indian Americans Are Big Donors To Gabbard Campaign https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/indian-americans-are-big-donors-to-gabbard-campaign/ Tue, 23 Apr 2019 10:01:31 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1329169 WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might not be able to compete in the money department with well-known presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, but she does lead the pack in at least one category — donations from Indian Americans. A recent analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by AAPI Data found […]

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might not be able to compete in the money department with well-known presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, but she does lead the pack in at least one category — donations from Indian Americans.

A recent analysis of Federal Election Commission filings by AAPI Data found that Gabbard raised $237,300 from Indian Americans in the first quarter of 2019.

That was more than any other declared Democratic presidential candidate who filed an FEC report by last week’s April 15 deadline. Cory Booker, the U.S. senator from New Jersey, came in second with $131,318 from Indian American donors, according to the AAPI Data analysis.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard pulls in a lot of campaign donations from the Indian American community.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

“What stood out to me quite a bit was that 44% of all the money Indian Americans gave went to Tulsi Gabbard, which is quite a bit,” said Sono Shah, researcher at AAPI Data who crunched the numbers.

“In terms of the other ethnic groups there weren’t that many that donated that large of a portion of their money to a single candidate.”

For instance, only 26 percent of Chinese donors gave their money to Andrew Yang, who received nearly 80 percent of his Asian contributions from Chinese Americans.

Many of the other candidates, particularly the major ones, had a more diverse distribution.

AAPI Data — a demographic research project  focused on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — found that both Gabbard and Booker did well with Asians in general.

The analysis found that Booker received $394,923 from Asians while Gabbard took in $390,155, which was enough to rank them No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, among the 14 Democratic presidential candidates included in the study.

Shah warned that the statistical analysis, however, is not comprehensive and should be looked at as an estimate.

Shah used an ethnic surname methodology that’s often used in health and political science research. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau also uses a similar method to enforce fair lending laws.

The methodology does have its shortcomings, particularly when it comes to interracial marriages that result in name changes.

Another caveat in the data comes from FEC rules that only require candidates to disclose the names of donors who give $200 or more to an individual’s campaign. For Gabbard, that meant the analysis included less than $900,000 of the nearly $1.9 million she raised during the first quarter of 2019.

Of the nearly $390,155 Gabbard pulled in from Asian donors, nearly 60 percent came from the Indian American community, and mostly from donors living in California. 

By comparison, California Sen. Kamala Harris, who’s part Indian, raised $322,047 from Asian Americans, with only 22 percent coming from the Indian community.

Gabbard was the first Hindu elected to Congress in 2013. And while she’s not of Indian descent — she’s Samoan American — her ascendance to federal office resonated in the Indian community, both in the U.S. and abroad.

She took her oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita, and then gave it as a gift to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a political strongman she’s defended and supported.

Gabbard’s fondness for Modi has not come without controversy, particularly as her campaign has benefitted from financial support of right-wing Hindu nationalists who some worry foment bigotry and violence against Muslims.

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Hawaii Rep. Ed Case Raised 99% Of Campaign Money From PACs https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/hawaii-rep-ed-case-raised-99-percent-of-campaign-money-from-pacs/ Tue, 16 Apr 2019 21:31:45 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328402 WASHINGTON — Of all the people donating to U.S. Rep. Ed Case’s 2020 congressional campaign there’s one name that sticks out. In fact, it’s the only name — Paul DiNino. Case reported in his latest Federal Election Commission filing on Monday that he only raised $475 from individual donors during the first quarter of 2019, and […]

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WASHINGTON — Of all the people donating to U.S. Rep. Ed Case’s 2020 congressional campaign there’s one name that sticks out.

In fact, it’s the only name — Paul DiNino.

Case reported in his latest Federal Election Commission filing on Monday that he only raised $475 from individual donors during the first quarter of 2019, and that $250 of it came from DiNino, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist who used to work for retired Democratic senator Harry Reid.

Congressman Ed Case Talk Story at Campbell High School.

Congressman Ed Case talks to his constituents during a “Talk Story” event at Campbell High School in Honolulu.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The remaining $225 came from individual donors who gave Case less than $200 each, meaning FEC rules didn’t require disclosure of their identities.

Still, Case was able to raise nearly $78,000 during the first three months of the year.

Almost all of that money — 99.4% — came from political action committees.

In 2018, Case raised nearly $564,000 in his bid for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District. At the time, only $74,000 came from PACs. He also loaned his campaign more than $151,000.

Some of the industries donating to Case’s 2020 campaign include those affiliated with hotels and tourism, such as Marriott International, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and Hilton Worldwide, and those with interests in sugar.

Case’s top two PAC donors — which each gave $10,000 to his campaign — were the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC and the American Hotel & Lodging Association PAC.

Case, who is on the House Appropriations and Natural Resources committees, is a former executive with Outrigger Enterprises, which is a top operator in Hawaii’s $18 billion tourism industry.

Two of Case’s Democratic House colleagues, Ted Lieu of California, and Bill Foster of Florida, gave money to the congressman’s 2020 re-election bid. So too did the Blue Dog PAC and the New Democrat Coalition.

Case also received thousands of dollars from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America PAC and the National Beer Wholesalers Association as well as from committees associated with defense contractors, such as General Dynamics, Honeywell International and Raytheon Company.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono doesn’t have to worry about another election until 2024.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Other companies whose PACs are giving to Case include Walmart and Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Case’s PAC donor list also includes the Poarch Band of Creek Indians and the Chickasaw Nation. As a congressman, Case promised to fight for the rights of Native Hawaiians.

Case’s fundraising, of course, pales in comparison to his Hawaii colleague, Tulsi Gabbard, who’s putting her congressional bid on pause while she runs for president.

Gabbard reported raising more than $1.9 million during the first three months of 2019.

Hawaii’s senators, meanwhile, had relatively low-key fundraising quarters, according to FEC reports that were also filed Monday. Neither is up for election in 2020.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who’s become a Democratic lightning rod since President Donald Trump took office, raised just over $58,000 in the quarter.

Hirono, who is 71 years old, easily secured a new six-year term in the Senate in 2018, which means she won’t be up for election until 2024, when she’ll be 77.

She reported having nearly $1 million in cash left over at the end of the reporting period.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz’s campaign reported raising more than $33,000 in the quarter. Schatz, who isn’t up for election until 2022, has more than $2.6 million in the bank.

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Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Raises $1.9 Million In Bid For White House https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/hawaii-rep-tulsi-gabbard-raises-1-9-million-in-bid-for-white-house/ Tue, 16 Apr 2019 04:42:17 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1328341 WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign reported raising $1.95 million during the first quarter of 2019, placing her well behind the rest of the Democratic field that includes heavyweights like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke. Even South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg out-raised Gabbard, pulling in a reported $7.1 million. Monday […]

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign reported raising $1.95 million during the first quarter of 2019, placing her well behind the rest of the Democratic field that includes heavyweights like Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke.

Even South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg out-raised Gabbard, pulling in a reported $7.1 million.

Monday was the filing deadline for presidential candidates to report how much money they’d raised and spent in the first quarter of 2019.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announces her run for president at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard raised nearly $2 million for her presidential campaign.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

And while many shared their numbers before the actual reports came due to the Federal Election Commission, the Hawaii congresswoman played hers close to the vest.

The FEC reports show Gabbard raised just over $1 million from small donors giving less than $200. Much of the rest — about $882,000 — came from itemized donations of $200 and above, meaning contributors would have to share their names and business affiliations.

Both of Gabbard’s parents, Mike and Carol Gabbard, gave their daughter $2,800, which is the maximum contribution for the primary.

Gabbard also transferred $2.5 million into her presidential account from her congressional campaign committee.

The FEC reports show Gabbard spent about $1.2 million on the things one might expect of a presidential candidate — travel and hotel expenses in early primary and caucus states, such as New Hampshire and Iowa, campaign management services and advertising.

Gabbard also paid her husband, Abraham Williams, who is her campaign videographer, about $1,800 for his services.

The FEC reports show Gabbard had nearly $2.8 million in cash on hand at the close of the reporting period March 31.

Gabbard’s campaign treasurer and spokeswoman Erika Tsuji did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment.

Gabbard kicked off her presidential campaign with nearly $2 million cash in her congressional campaign account.

That money was left over from her ambitious fundraising efforts in the years following her first election to Congress in 2012.

In the 2014, 2016, and 2018 election cycles, Gabbard pumped millions of dollars into her war chest despite the fact she didn’t face any serious challenges from other Democrats or Republicans.

The congresswoman also spent large sums of money despite the dearth of electoral competition. Those efforts allowed her to expand her fundraising base and craft the well-curated image she’s now presenting on the national stage.

Still, Gabbard, 37, has struggled to find her way in a field that could include upwards of 20 candidates, many of whom have higher profiles, deeper pockets and longer resumes.

Gabbard has campaigned largely on the need to pull the U.S. out of what she describes as regime-change wars so that the country can start spending that money on domestic issues, such as Medicare-for-all.

She’s also had to apologize for her past virulent views about the LGBTQ community and same-sex marriage as well as answer for her secret trip to Syria, where she met with the country’s president Bashar al-Assad, who many consider a war criminal.

Even the official launch of her campaign started with a sputter as she parted ways with two of her top consultants just as she announced her candidacy.

Gabbard, however, persevered and earlier this month announced she received enough donations to qualify for the Democratic debate stage in June.

‘I’m Not Afraid To Take On Anyone’

Last week, Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot as well as a major in the Hawaii Air National Guard, boasted of raising $250,000 from 3,231 donors in the first quarter of 2019.

By any measure that’s an impressive haul for a first-time federal candidate who could be challenging one of the state’s most popular politicians if she abandons her presidential bid and runs for her own seat again.

But Kahele says he could have done better if he’d kicked off his candidacy sooner.

“We officially launched on Jan. 21, and if I had those 21 days back I think it could have been $300,000,” Kahele said.

Chair Kai Kahele gestures during water rights hearing with left, Ways and Means chair Donovan.

Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele feels good about how much money he’s raised so far in his bid to replace U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Much of Kahele’s money — about $195,000 — came from donors giving his campaign more than $200, meaning their names, address and business affiliations are listed in the reports.

Kahele also received $8,700 from three political action committees, including the Hawaiian Airlines PAC.

Other PACs contributing to Kahele’s campaign are those affiliated with the Bank of Hawaii and Service Corporation International, which provides funeral and cemetery services.

Gabbard said she swore off PAC contributions in 2017, something that has become en vogue, especially among progressive Democrats running for president.

What the FEC filings make clear is that Kahele is picking up support — at least financially — from some of the state’s most influential business leaders and power brokers.

Kahele is already endorsed by former Hawaii governors John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie, all of whom are honorary co-chairs of his campaign.

Among his donors are developer Stanford Carr, shipping magnate George Pasha, of the Pasha Group, and Alicia Moi, president and CEO of Hawaii Gas.

Top lobbyists, including George “Red” Morris, John Radcliffe, Bruce Coppa, Melissa Pavlicek and Blake Oshiro, whose firm Capital Consultants of Hawaii is a mainstay in island politics, are also on the donor list. 

Other notable names are Walter Dods and Crystal Rose. Dods is the former chairman of First Hawaiian Bank and was U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye’s campaign chairman. Rose, meanwhile, is a real estate lawyer, and trusted campaign advisor for U.S. Rep. Ed Case.

Leaders in the Native Hawaiian community have also thrown their support behind Kahele, who is part-Native Hawaiian.

Three current Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees, Lei Ahu Isa, Robert Lindsey and Colette Machado, have donated to his campaign, as have two past members, Peter Apo and Oswald Stender.

A handful of local politicians have also given Kahele money, including state Sen. Michelle Kidani, Rep. Chris Todd and Hawaii County Councilman Aaron Chung.

Kahele says he’s appreciative of all the support and hopes that it leads to an even better financial showing in the next fundraising quarter.

He said at this point he considers himself the only person in the race for the Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District because Gabbard has been busy running for president. He added that she’s also appeared “noncommittal” when pressed about her future plans for the seat.

“I’m definitely not afraid to take on anyone who desires to serve the district,” Kahele said. “I know my sole focus is going to be representing the people of CD2 in Congress. It’s not going to be running across the country and trying to get on the national news networks.”

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Honolulu Police Corruption: ‘Don’t Try To BS’ The Judge https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/honolulu-police-corruption-dont-try-to-bs-the-judge/ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 10:01:13 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327209 With just a few words, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright put the lawyers in his courtroom on notice. “We need to be honest and have some integrity here,” he said. It was Nov. 8, 2017, and Seabright was conducting his first status conference in what is expected to be one of the highest […]

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With just a few words, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright put the lawyers in his courtroom on notice.

“We need to be honest and have some integrity here,” he said.

It was Nov. 8, 2017, and Seabright was conducting his first status conference in what is expected to be one of the highest profile cases of his judicial career.

It’s also the biggest public corruption case in Hawaii history. And as a May 13 trial date approaches, Seabright is finding himself more and more in the headlines as rulings are made on how best to ensure fairness and an orderly process.

Whether it’s the decision to hold jury selection at the Blaisdell Center — 400 prospective jurors are expected — or to let prosecutors depose a 99-year-old woman in case she’s too sick to make it to the trial, Seabright is becoming a central character in the legal theater playing out in Honolulu.

Silhouettes of Ex HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and wife Katherine Kealoha at District Court.

Louis and Katherine Kealoha are at the center of a federal investigation into public corruption in Hawaii.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In October 2017, just three weeks before Seabright admonished attorneys about honesty and integrity, Honolulu’s former police chief, Louis Kealoha, was indicted along with four of his officers, Derek Hahn, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, Daniel Sellers and Gordon Shiraishi, for trying to frame his wife’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of a mailbox.

Louis Kealoha’s wife, Katherine Kealoha, a city prosecutor, was also charged in the conspiracy.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, the Kealohas wanted to discredit Puana after he filed a lawsuit against Katherine that threatened to expose their financial crimes.

Katherine Kealoha was accused of bilking her uncle and grandmother, Florence Puana, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. She was also charged with stealing nearly $150,000 from two children she had guardianship over when they were minors.

The Kealohas were additionally charged with identity theft and bank fraud, crimes they committed, prosecutors said, so that they could maintain a lavish lifestyle beyond their public servant means.

Seabright’s comments were directed at one of the Kealohas’ defense attorneys, Kevin Sumida, who was trying to wriggle free of defending his clients any further because they didn’t have the money to pay him.

“He’s going to know the case backwards and forwards.” — William Shipley

Sumida presented inaccurate information in his motion to remove himself from the case, saying the government froze the Kealohas’ assets and had blocked them from getting a loan. But Seabright wasn’t having it. He said the Kealohas could apply for a loan if they wanted to, but that they just hadn’t tried.

“Maybe you should read the bond before you write something,” Seabright told Sumida.

It wasn’t the only warning the judge issued that day. Seabright also dismissed any notions of the defense lawyers trying to push the trial date beyond 2020, saying at the time that even 2019 would be pushing it.

“My ultimate goal will be to engage in some pretty active management in this case,” he said.

What Seabright wanted to make clear was that the courtroom was his and that both sides — the defense and the prosecution — would play by his rules.

‘Don’t Try To BS Him’

Seabright was nominated to the federal bench in 2005 by then-President George W. Bush. He was confirmed with a 98-0 vote in the U.S. Senate.

Prior to that he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for nearly 18 years, first in Washington, D.C., and then in Hawaii, where he rose to the rank of supervisor.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright

Submitted

He did his undergraduate studies at Tulane University in New Orleans and attended law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Seabright became the Hawaii district’s chief judge in November 2015 when Susan Oki Mollway went on senior status.

Over the years, Seabright has gained a reputation for running an efficient courtroom and being a stickler for procedure.

In the Almanac for the Federal Judiciary — a compendium of profiles for all federal judges throughout the U.S. — the general consensus among lawyers who know him is that Seabright is intelligent, fair and equipped with “outstanding legal ability.”

But their words also came with a note of caution: “Be prepared and don’t try to B.S. him.”

“In my mind you can’t ask for much more in a judge,” said Michael Kawahara, who retired from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2015. 

“There are judges with different judicial philosophies, but when you have a judge who is organized and in charge of things in his courtroom and he’s giving both sides their day in court you can’t ask for very much more.”

Fighting Organized Crime

Seabright’s background as an assistant U.S. attorney shapes his approach in the courtroom and not in the way one might expect.

He tends to go hard on prosecutors because he understands the advantages they have over the people they’re trying to put behind bars.

The U.S. Justice Department has nearly unlimited resources to investigate a crime.

Prosecutors can harness the power of the FBI and other government agencies, including the DEA, ATF and IRS, to help make their case. They can spend weeks, months and even years investigating a suspect before ever filing charges.

Prosecutors can subpoena records, force people who don’t want to talk to testify before a grand jury and even tap a target’s cell phone. They often don’t bring charges until they’re almost absolutely certain.

In short, there’s a reason the U.S. government has a conviction rate north of 90 percent.

“Judge Seabright is so demanding of prosecutors because he has such high expectations,” said William Shipley, a Honolulu defense lawyer who used to work with Seabright in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “He doesn’t want to hear any excuses.”

Federal prosecutors can tap the FBI to help them make a case.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

When Shipley got the call in 2002 that he’d been hired to work as an assistant U.S. attorney in Hawaii, it was Seabright, his future supervisor, on the other end of the line.

At the time, Shipley was prosecuting high profile drug cases in California, mostly involving methamphetamine. In Hawaii, he would be joining Seabright’s team of prosecutors who wanted to crack down on white collar and organized crime.

Seabright was a methodical prosecutor, Shipley said, and he was always brainstorming with the other attorneys in the office on how best to pursue complex prosecutions.

“These types of crimes involve an enterprising approach,” Shipley said. “You have to unwind them and he was good at that. He liked that.”

He’ll Know It ‘Backwards And Forwards’

Some of Seabright’s biggest cases involved public corruption in Hawaii government.

Early in his career he won the conviction of former House Speaker Daniel Kihano for money laundering, obstruction of justice and filing false tax returns based on his diversion of $27,000 in campaign funds to personal use.

According to news reports, it was the first time in Hawaii that federal prosecutors tried a criminal case based on violations of campaign spending laws.

Seabright also prosecuted Milton Holt, a Harvard-educated state senator who, like Kihano, was using his campaign funds for personal use.

A few years later, in 2001, Seabright took on another local lawmaker, Honolulu City Councilman Andy Mirikitani, for using his office’s funds in a kickback scheme to pump more money into his own campaign coffers.

While some judges might seek to place their fingers on the scales, Seabright studies the weights.

Mirikitani was charged with a series of felonies, including extortion, bribery and wire fraud. He was eventually sentenced to more than four years in federal prison.

At the time, Seabright said Mirikitani got what he deserved because he “arrogantly manipulated the public trust.”

Shipley expects Seabright to bring his experiences prosecuting such cases into the courtroom when the Kealohas and their co-defendants stand trial.

While it’s a complex case — one that involves a lot of defendants, several indictments and an ongoing grand jury investigation that could bring more charges — Shipley said he has no doubt Seabright will maintain his order.

“He’s going to know the case backwards and forwards,” Shipley said. “There are going to be no facts that come out either from the witness stand or in the exhibits that will surprise him.”

‘Judicially Conservative’

As a judge, Seabright has presided over a number of headline-grabbing cases, from the trial and sentencing of a famed Hawaii kickboxer to the first and only death penalty case in the state since capital punishment was abolished in 1957.

(The death penalty case involved a former soldier who killed his 5-year-old daughter on military property, which under federal law, allowed for capital punishment despite Hawaii’s ban.)

Lawyers who have argued before him say he doesn’t walk into the courtroom with a preconceived notion about how he might rule.

Instead, he’d rather let both sides duke it out before coming to a final decision.

Seabright also doesn’t display the kind of ideological bent one might suspect in today’s polarized environment, given that federal judges are political appointees.

While some judges might seek to place their fingers on the scales, Seabright studies the weights.

Brian Black is the executive director of The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm that works for transparency in government.

If anything, Black said, Seabright skews “judicially conservative,” meaning he’s not looking to be an activist from the bench making new laws, particularly when it comes to sensitive matters such as national security and personal privacy.

R Brian Black Executive Director Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest testifies during charter commission meeting at Honolulu Hale.

Brian Black is an advocate for more government transparency and better access to public records.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“He doesn’t want to swing the pendulum far one way or the other,” Black said.

In 2016, for instance, Black sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its refusal to release inspection reports that found “widespread regulatory noncompliance” at the University of Hawaii’s laboratories that used specific biological agents and toxins.

Among the CDC’s arguments for withholding the records was that any release could lead to someone stealing the toxins and creating a biological weapon to kill people.

Black said Seabright often deferred to the government’s assertions for keeping the documents confidential rather than press the CDC on whether the need for secrecy was warranted.

Ultimately, Seabright agreed to allow the CDC to heavily redact the documents, a decision that is now being reviewed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Still, Black said Seabright weighed the arguments and in general is open to being persuaded.

In the Kealoha case, for instance, Black sought to have records unsealed that showed, among other things, how Katherine Kealoha’s attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, tried to have her client declared mentally unfit to stand trial.

Seabright initially approved of the sealings, but reversed course after Black’s challenge.

While he didn’t release all the records Black sought, Seabright did make a substantial number available to the public.

“That’s a reflection of what judges are supposed to do,” Black said. “Which is to take their jobs seriously and really try to find the right path.”

‘Pleasant, Polite And To The Point’

Seabright has already made a number of consequential rulings in the Kealoha case.

Last May, he granted a defense motion to divide the charges into two clumps, one involving the allegations related to the mailbox conspiracy and cover-up, and a second focusing on the Kealaohas’ alleged financial crimes.

He also granted a recent request from Katherine Kealoha to delay the mailbox trial until mid-May so that she could receive treatment for cancer.

The government had tried to block Kealoha’s request for continuance, arguing among other things, that she had a history of faking illnesses.

“In the end, I don’t think you’ll see anybody complaining about the judge in this case.” — Gary Modafferi

And while Seabright’s decision to divide the charges into two trials is seen as a boon for the defendants, he recently allowed the government to introduce evidence of the financial crimes into the mailbox case to help prove the motive behind the alleged framing of Gerard Puana.

He also is allowing federal prosecutors to take a video deposition of Puana’s 99-year-old mother, Florence, who suffers from a heart condition.

Florence Puana is a key witness in the case as well as an alleged victim. Prosecutors worry the government would lose an important witness if she is unable to testify at trial, either in person or via video deposition.

Attorney Gary Modafferi and Kevin Sumida leave District Court. Katherine Kealoha is at left.

Gary Modafferi, center, says he expects Seabright to run a fair trial.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Gary Modaferri is a Las Vegas defense attorney who used to practice in Hawaii. He briefly represented Louis Kealoha in the mailbox case, and was in the room the day Seabright scolded Sumida, a scenario in which he said the judge was “100 percent right.”

Modafferi has known Seabright for years, and the two used to argue cases against one another when Seabright was still a federal prosecutor.

He said he’s watched the Kealoha case from afar and finds the way Seabright to be acting just as he remembered him when they were adversaries — “He’s pleasant, polite and to the point.”

Modafferi said it was clear from that first hearing in November 2017 that Seabright was going to be hands on without being overbearing. As always he would be open to arguments, but he wouldn’t bend too far. Modafferi said there’s too much at stake.

“He understands the importance of this case to the community, to the defendants and to everybody involved,” Modafferi said. “You can expect to see this case move forward quickly, deliberately and fairly.

“In the end, I don’t think you’ll see anybody complaining about the judge in this case.”

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar, who is also CEO and publisher of Civil Beat. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.

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Sen. Kai Kahele Says He’s Raised $250,000 To Challenge Tulsi Gabbard https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/sen-kai-kahele-says-hes-raised-250000-to-challenge-tulsi-gabbard/ Tue, 09 Apr 2019 00:40:10 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1327093 WASHINGTON — State Sen. Kai Kahele’s congressional campaign announced Monday that he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of the year in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president but could also simultaneously seek re-election. Kahele said the money came from 3,231 donors, which averages just over $77 […]

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WASHINGTON — State Sen. Kai Kahele’s congressional campaign announced Monday that he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of the year in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president but could also simultaneously seek re-election.

Kahele said the money came from 3,231 donors, which averages just over $77 per contribution.

The press release didn’t include any details about who has donated to Kahele’s campaign or what he has spent.

Sen Chair Kai Kahele asks State Auditor Les Kondo about a possible Mauna Kea/TMT audit.

State Sen. Kai Kahele, who plans to run for Congress next year, says he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of 2019.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The last day of the fundraising quarter was March 31 and Federal Election Commission rules give candidates until April 15 to file their paperwork.

Kahele could not be reached for comment Monday, but in his press release he said he expects his campaign to develop into one of the largest grassroots fundraising efforts in the state as he seeks the 2nd Congressional District seat covering rural Oahu and the neighbor islands.

“I look forward to continuing my travels across the district and hearing directly from the people on what their concerns are and how I can best represent them in Washington, D.C.,” Kahele said. “If elected, being their voice in Congress will be my sole focus and number one priority.”

The 41-year-old Kahele will likely need all the money he can get if he has any hope of unseating Gabbard, who consistently polls as one of the state’s most popular politicians.

Kahele, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and member of the Hawaii Air National Guard, has already received significant backing from several of Hawaii’s former governors, including John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie.

All three serve as honorary co-chairs of his campaign committee.

Gabbard, meanwhile, is engaged in her long-shot presidential campaign.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard speaks during the 2018 Hawaii Democratic Convention held at the Hilton Waikaloa in Kona, Hawaii.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is running for president, but she could also run for re-election to Congress.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

She has not released any details about how much money she’s raised.

Gabbard has been focusing on meeting the 65,000-donor threshold the Democratic National Committee said is necessary to qualify for the presidential debate stage of the primary campaign.

A campaign email sent out Monday said she was 653 donors away from hitting that mark.

Kahele’s reported haul compares favorably to Gabbard’s previous election cycle numbers when she wasn’t a presidential candidate.

For example in the first quarter of 2017, FEC records show Gabbard raised nearly $167,000. Over the course of the last two-year cycle she raised a total of about $1.4 million.

Gabbard’s fundraising haul came in a year in which she didn’t face a significant challenge to her re-election. In fact, she has largely coasted ever since she was elected to Congress in 2012.

Still, she has been able to build a large base of donors from around the country. When she kicked off her presidential campaign, she had about $2 million in her account.

Erika Tsuji, a spokeswoman for Gabbard’s campaign, did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment about Kahele’s announcement.

The post Sen. Kai Kahele Says He’s Raised $250,000 To Challenge Tulsi Gabbard appeared first on Honolulu Civil Beat.

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Defendant Wants To Stop Early Testimony Of Katherine Kealoha’s 99-Year-Old Grandmother https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/defendant-wants-to-stop-early-testimony-of-katherine-kealohas-99-year-old-grandmother/ Thu, 04 Apr 2019 10:01:50 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1326292 Florence Puana is 99 years old and suffering from a weakened heart. But she’s also a key witness in the upcoming trial for former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine Kealoha, a former Honolulu deputy prosecutor.  They are accused of framing her son, Gerard, for the theft of their mailbox. Gerard Puana is […]

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Florence Puana is 99 years old and suffering from a weakened heart.

But she’s also a key witness in the upcoming trial for former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine Kealoha, a former Honolulu deputy prosecutor. 

They are accused of framing her son, Gerard, for the theft of their mailbox. Gerard Puana is Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, while Florence Puana is her grandmother. 

Because of Florence Puana’s condition — she was hospitalized last week — federal prosecutors have asked a judge to let them perform a videotaped deposition with her before the start of the Kealohas’ May 13 trial in case she’s unable to testify at that point.

Center, Bobby Nguyen arrives at District Court. Kealoha Case.

Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, center, is trying to stop federal prosecutors from deposing Florence Puana.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But one of the Kealohas’ alleged accomplices, Honolulu police officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, wants to stop that from happening.

Nguyen’s lawyer, Randall Hironaka, filed a motion Monday opposing the government’s request to depose Puana, saying the prosecution hasn’t shown proof of the “exceptional circumstances” necessary to warrant such a maneuver.

Hironaka said the government must provide evidence of the health issues that sent Puana to the hospital beyond a vague reference to a 2014 heart valve condition that was included in their initial request. 

“The Government appears to be relying almost primarily upon the fact that Ms. Puana is 99 years old,” Hironaka wrote.

Nguyen is charged along with the Kealohas of framing Puana in the June 2013 mailbox theft case.  

Gerard and Florence Puana say Katherine Kealoha stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from them.

Submitted

Several other police officers have also been charged with participating in the alleged conspiracy and cover-up, including Derek Hahn, Gordan Shiraishi, Daniel Sellers and Niall Silva.

Silva and Sellers have already pleaded guilty.

According to federal prosecutors, the Kealohas wanted to frame Gerard Puana to undermine him in a civil lawsuit he and his mother filed against Katherine Kealoha in March 2013.

That lawsuit accused Kealoha of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Puanas and spending it on her and her husband’s own lavish lifestyle that included luxury cars, travel and a $26,000 party at the Sheraton Waikiki.

Federal prosecutors say the lawsuit also threatened to uncover other financial crimes perpetrated by the Kealohas, including the theft of nearly $140,000 from two children.

A second trial that focuses on these allegations — which involve additional charges of bank fraud and identity theft — is scheduled Oct. 21. Katherine Kealoha also faces a series of felony drug charges along with her younger brother Rudolph Puana, a board certified anesthesiologist, for running a prescription drug ring.

Florence Puana’s testimony is expected to play a key role in establishing the motive behind the alleged framing of her son.

For example, federal prosecutors plan to use threatening letters Katherine Kealoha sent to Puana after she accused her of stealing her money.

As one of the letters stated:

“I WILL seek the highest form of legal retribution against ANYONE and EVERYONE who has written or verbally uttered those LIES about me! They will rue the day that they decided to state these TWISTED LIES!”

Federal Public Defender Alexander Silvert looks on as HPD commission Steven Levinson speaks to media. 16 dec 2016

Alexander Silvert and his investigators uncovered evidence indicating Gerard Puana was framed.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But Florence Puana could also be called to testify about Nguyen’s own involvement in the alleged framing of her son.

On June 19, 2013, just two days before the purported mailbox theft, Katherine Kealoha was participating in a deposition with the Puanas’ civil attorney, Gerald Kurashima. 

According to court records, Nguyen admitted to investigators that he was dispatched to the location of the deposition where he struck up a conversation with Florence Puana.

While Nguyen said he couldn’t remember what they talked about, she told the investigators that he had been asking her questions about her son, including the type of car he drove.

Federal prosecutors said Florence Puana mistakenly told Nguyen that Gerard drove a white sedan, which was the same color car used two days later by the alleged mailbox thief.

Gerard’s car, however, was silver.

Alexander Silvert is the federal public defender who represented Puana after the Kealohas accused him of stealing their mailbox.

He also uncovered the alleged frame job that ultimately led to the Justice Department’s investigation.

Silvert said Nguyen’s recent motion appears to be an attempt to keep Florence Puana from testifying against him about their June 19 conversation.

“Other parts of Florence Puana’s testimony can be corroborated either by other witnesses or other evidence,” Silvert said. “This is the one piece of her story that appears to be important to the government’s case that can only be provided by Florence Puana.”

“Any defense attorney is trying to keep as much damaging evidence out of trial as they can,” Silvert said. 

“And if her deposition is not taken and her testimony not preserved — let’s say if she were to pass away prior to trial — that would be a loss for the government and strategically helpful for Mr. Nguyen.”

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Schatz Leads Senate Dems On Climate Change: ‘The Crisis Of Our Generation’ https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/04/schatz-leads-senate-dems-on-climate-change-the-crisis-of-our-generation/ Mon, 01 Apr 2019 10:01:01 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1325850 WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii has been named the chairman of a new Democratic special committee on the climate crisis, meaning he’ll have a major say on what direction his party takes on the issue over the next couple of years. Civil Beat caught up with Schatz as he traveled back to Hawaii […]

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii has been named the chairman of a new Democratic special committee on the climate crisis, meaning he’ll have a major say on what direction his party takes on the issue over the next couple of years.

Civil Beat caught up with Schatz as he traveled back to Hawaii over the weekend to talk about his new role  and how he hopes to influence even skeptical Republicans.

“Nebraska just got hit by historic floods that are going to cost over a billion dollars to their economy,” Schatz said. “When you see the impacts of climate change and severe weather in your community, and it harms your farm or your home or your family, it becomes real and it becomes personal. You want to take action.”

Senator Brian Schatz speaks during the 2018 Hawaii Democratic Convention held at the Hilton Waikaloa in Kona, Hawaii.

Sen. Brian Schatz will be the new face of tackling the climate crises in the U.S. Senate.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

For starters, we asked about Schatz’s heated response to U.S. Sen. Mike Lee’s mockery of the Green New Deal on the Senate floor last week. In his attempt to undermine the resolution, Lee used images of a cartoon seahorse, a machine gun-wielding Ronald Reagan taking on a velociraptor and Luke Skywalker riding a “Star Wars” tauntaun.

Lee claimed the Green New Deal would end air travel and force residents of Alaska and Hawaii to use seahorses and these “hairy bipedal species of space lizards” to traverse the oceans and the snow.

He then said the only real way to solve climate change is to have more babies and leave it up to them to solve the crisis.

Schatz’s response was to take the Senate floor himself and call out Lee.

“I get that we want to make jokes and we want to be clever and we want to get clips to put on Facebook or Instagram or whatever, but that was appalling,” Schatz said. “This is the crisis of our generation and it is not a joke.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah made light of climate change by using an image from “Star Wars.”

CSPAN

Here’s how the conversation went, with some minor editing:

I was just watching your reaction to Mike Lee on CSPAN. What went through your mind when you saw his pictures of tauntauns and seahorses?

“I understand he was trying to be funny. But with the Midwest flooding, with the worst wildfires in California history, with billions of dollars worth of damage across the country, this is a serious matter and we need to get to work. 

“It just demonstrates that so far very few Republicans have a real idea about what to do about climate change.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally said that climate change does appear to be human-caused. What did you think about that admission?

“We’re making progress. It’s slower than it needs to be. But because of our determination and because the American public is with us, Republicans have moved on from denying that climate change is real to at least acknowledging the existence of the problem.

“The next step is to get them to propose solutions and work on legislation, but it was progress to get Mitch McConnell to concede that climate change is real and caused by humans.”

What is it going to take to get Republicans to take that next step?

“There are two things. One is that events are overtaking politics. Nebraska just got hit by historic floods that are going to cost over a billion to their economy.

Brian Schatz and Mitch McConnell

Schatz said he will press Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, and other Republicans to shift their views on climate change.

Nick Grube/Civil Beat

“It’s one thing to be theoretically conservative and put on a red hat and oppose what Al Gore or liberal Democrats are proposing.

“But when you see the impacts of climate change and severe weather in your community and it harms your farm or our home or your family it becomes real and it becomes personal and you want to take action.

“The polling data is fascinating on this. The majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents want climate action. So the only places that remain obstinate on this issue are the United States Senate and the White House.

“The other thing is elections. We had a problem in 2016 of a steep drop-off in turnout among young people and that was one of the reasons that we lost places like Wisconsin and Michigan, for instance.

“2020 is going to be a climate election. You’ve got a Democratic primary in which there are several climate hawks, you’ve got a media that’s beginning to pay attention in earnest, and you’ve got the unfortunate reality of these disasters continuing to roll on and do damage.”

Of the presidential contenders so far, who’s talking about climate in a way that you can get on board with? Who in your view seems to be saying the right things?

“I don’t want to get into that, and this is sort of my standard answer because so many of them are my friends and colleagues.

“Even though I’m pleased with what several of them have said, the problem becomes if I praise one I have to praise them all. It’s like being a parent and making sure all of your children feel equally loved.”

How about this: If you could build the perfect candidate, what would they say about the climate challenges we face today?

“I think that you have to strike the right balance between moral urgency and hope and optimism. This is a real catastrophe. This is a crisis. But we have to call upon our self-confidence as a nation.

“We have actually solved bigger problems than this. We vanquished the Nazis, we built the interstate highway system. We built railroads. We did rural electrification. We navigated our way out of the Great Depression. We landed a man on the moon.

“Using electrons from wind and solar ought not to be as hard as a lot of these other accomplishments of the United States throughout history.”

Could you reflect on what it means to be the chairman of this new climate committee given your career as an advocate, from lieutenant governor to your affiliations with the Center for a Sustainable Future and the Youth for Environmental Service?

“It’s been my life’s work and will continue to be my life’s work. I remain as hopeful and determined as ever and I’m extremely pleased that Senate Democrats are finally united on this issue.”

How did you feel when you first came into the Senate in December 2012? Were Democrats united then?

“We were a little more wobbly, and that’s because of all of the factors that I just talked about. The politics weren’t squared away and the public was a little more either divided or just purely ambivalent, like it just didn’t rise to the top.

“To be clear, anytime you take a poll, it’s definitely health care at the top or it’s all about jobs and then maybe education and then maybe infrastructure.

“That’s just how people operate because these are the things that are going to matter to your own existence, your job, your health care and your housing situation. So this issue of climate rarely polls at the top. But it’s also a defining question for the people of this era.

“People understand that increasingly it’s not an abstraction. It’s not just another box to check for liberals or another thing for politicians to fight about or the parties to argue about. People understand that we have to rise to the challenge and fix this.”

What can this Democrats-only committee accomplish with Democrats in the minority and most decisions falling squarely along party lines? The committee doesn’t have the ability to pass legislation or mark up bills, so what’s the point?

“It’s there to do the investigative work on the cost of inaction and the opportunities around solutions, and to lay a predicate so that when and if we run the Congress in 2021 we can move quickly and boldly.”

Let’s say Democrats retake the Senate in 2020. Would this committee become more formalized such as Appropriations or Armed Services or Intelligence committees?

“There’s an argument that it ought to continue to roll on through to the next Congress.

“But the idea is that by then we would be legislating and then the committees of jurisdiction — the Finance Committee, the Appropriations Committee and others — would take it from there.

“I just don’t know. We haven’t gotten there conceptually yet because we just announced this thing.”

How then do you get the Republicans take to take this committee seriously and ensure that you’re not just screaming into the void?

“We have to win first. Because the Republicans need to see that there are electoral consequences to being on the wrong side of electoral history here.

“Number two is we were fighting pretty ferociously here on the floor and through the media for the last couple of weeks and it was that fight that seemed to dislodge some of the Republicans from their previous positions.

“Mitch McConnell seemed to indicate that he was not going to be a climate denier anymore, although he will obviously continue to be an obstacle. (Tennessee Sen.) Lamar Alexander came to the floor to say climate change is real and caused by humans. He then proposed what he’s calling a Manhattan Project for clean energy.

“But this wasn’t a result of us going over to their offices and begging for a compromise. It was the combat that resulted in them moving off the vine. Sometimes a carrot works and sometimes a stick works. I think in this instance some of them feel comfortable staying in their climate denier positions and we need to spend the next few years making them feel uncomfortable.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer named Brian Schatz the chairmanship of a new committee on climate change.

Nick Grube/CIvil Beat

Can you give me some examples of concrete action that can come out of this committee’s work?

“We’re sort of not there yet. I’ve had a couple of meetings with (Democratic Minority Leader) Sen. (Chuck)  Schumer and his team and I’ve had one meeting with all of the members of the committee.

“But in terms of both the content of the committee hearings and the cadence, how often we’re going to meet, that remains to be fleshed out.”

A year from now what do you hope this committee is doing?

“I want to demonstrate that climate action is good for the economy and good for communities and climate inaction is expensive and dangerous.

“So we could have business leaders, government leaders, scientists and advocates come to the committee to testify. But I think you’re also going to see unexpected partnerships and allies, such as in the outdoor industry associations and farming community.

“I think we have to make sure this isn’t just the usual suspects. I love my friends at the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, and they have a major leadership role here, but we want to hear from folks who are new to the climate movement, not those of us who have been working on this for two decades.

“I’m also excited to tell the story of Hawaii’s success, that on a bipartisan basis and led at the time by (former Republican Gov.) Linda Lingle that we embarked on an ambitious clean energy program and it worked.

“We still have lots more to accomplish and it hasn’t been easy and it hasn’t been perfect and it hasn’t been conflict-free. But we are proof that you can develop a clean energy economy and make the transition in such a way that it benefits everybody.”

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Kealoha Attorney Wants UH Instructor Muzzled Or Fired https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/03/kealoha-attorney-wants-uh-instructor-muzzled-or-fired/ Sat, 30 Mar 2019 05:29:15 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1325784 Honolulu criminal defense attorney Rustam Barbee wants to silence one of Hawaii’s most high-profile legal analysts — University of Hawaii law school instructor Kenneth Lawson. Among other clients, Barbee is representing former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha in his federal conspiracy and public corruption trial. Earlier this week, Barbee sent a letter to Avi Soifer, […]

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Honolulu criminal defense attorney Rustam Barbee wants to silence one of Hawaii’s most high-profile legal analysts — University of Hawaii law school instructor Kenneth Lawson.

Among other clients, Barbee is representing former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha in his federal conspiracy and public corruption trial.

Earlier this week, Barbee sent a letter to Avi Soifer, dean of the William S. Richardson Law School, asking him to keep Lawson from commenting to the media on various criminal cases, including the prosecution of Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a former city prosecutor, and other Honolulu police officers.

If Lawson won’t stop talking he should be fired, Barbee said in a six-page letter sent to Soifer.

Lawson is a well-known instructor who specializes in defense and criminal law procedure. He’s also the co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, which has a mission of overturning wrongful convictions.

Retired HPD Chief Kealoha attorney Rustam Barbee opens door ahead of Louis Kealoha at District Court.

Rustam Barbee, who represents Louis Kealoha, attacked a University of Hawaii law school instructor who provides legal analysis and commentary to the media on his client’s case.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But in the letter to Soifer, Barbee argued that Lawson’s statements to the media about various criminal cases have amounted to Lawson picking sides and calling certain defendants guilty before that has been  proven at trial.

Not only could this be detrimental to a defendant’s case, Barbee argued, but it could also reflect poorly on Lawson and, by extension, the law school.

“Commentary attributing guilt against pretrial defendants by a professor at a publicly funded law school does not advance the justice system but serves only to increase a risk of having a wrongful conviction at trial,” Barbee said.

“This has nothing to do with my comments. This has everything to do with the nature of them being bullies.” — Kenneth Lawson, University of Hawaii

The Kealohas and other HPD officers are set to stand trial for various charges stemming from an effort to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of their mailbox. Prosecutors say the Kealohas were trying to get leverage against Puana in a separate civil case that could have cost the Kealohas a lot of money.

The Kealohas also face numerous charges related to bank fraud and theft for bilking Puana and his grandmother out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Lawson has been a frequent commentator on the case, and has provided legal analysis to numerous news outlets, including Civil Beat, over the past several years. Lawson also is often asked for his legal review of other cases in Hawaii.

In an interview with Civil Beat, Barbee said he also has concerns with other lawyers who have been talking to the press about the case. But they aren’t doing it from a platform as a member of a public institution.

He said Lawson is stepping outside his lane in a way that makes him a “tool of the prosecutors” and not someone who defends the rights of the wrongly convicted.

“He’s giving an opinion that could influence the people in the community who are reading his comments in an article,” Barbee said. “That’s poisoning the well.”

In the letter to Soifer, Barbee said: “If Professor Lawson cannot refrain from publicly attacking pretrial defendants, he should be fired and his position awarded to someone else more deserving and representative of providing criminal defense services.”

Lawson said the letter appears to a bullying tactic to shut him up. He said he’s never said the Kealohas were guilty. 

Instead, Lawson said he does what any legal analyst would do and responds to the series of facts and circumstances as they’ve been presented either in court documents or by the reporter asking him questions.

The fact that he’s been targeted, he said, seems to fit in with the Kealohas’ strategy of attacking those who they perceive as threats. 

“They have a pattern and practice of trying to punish people who speak out against them in ways that they don’t like,” Lawson said. “As far as Mr. Barbee is concerned, I think he would be better served defending his client than messing with me.”

Kenneth Lawson teaches criminal law and procedure at the University of Hawaii.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Lawson said this isn’t the first time he’s been on the wrong end of retaliation for speaking out about what he considers to be mistakes in law enforcement.

In 2014, he was a vocal critic of Kealoha and the Honolulu Police Department for its handling of the Darren Cachola case.

Cachola is an HPD sergeant who was caught on surveillance video beating his girlfriend inside a Waipahu restaurant. He was never arrested or charged with a crime.

That same year Lawson was quoted again in news articles about the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s handling of the prosecution of Christopher Deedy.

Deedy was a federal agent who shot and killed a local man in a Waikiki McDonald’s, but city prosecutors struggled to get a conviction despite two trials.

In January 2015, Lawson said he was targeted politically for his willingness to comment critically on the high-profile cases.

State Sens. Mike Gabbard and Brickwood Galuteria introduced legislation that would create certain “character and fitness” requirements for someone to be a law professor at the University of Hawaii.

The bill, if passed, also would have blocked anyone who had been suspended or disbarred from teaching at the school. 

For Lawson, this would have meant the possibility of losing his job.

He’s a recovered drug addict whose past includes criminal convictions and the loss of his law license in Ohio for misconduct stemming from his addiction to prescription painkillers. He even spent time in prison.

While that aspect of his life is not something he tries to hide — it’s even highlighted on his official webpage at the law school — it appeared to him that someone was trying to use his story of redemption against him.

Lawson pointed out that he has the support of both Soifer and the law school despite Barbee’s attempts to keep him quiet. He said he has no intention of being muzzled.

“They can try these intimidation tactics with someone else, but not me,” Lawson said. “I’ve OD’d three times, I’ve been to prison and I was born in a mental institution, so there aren’t many things that scare me.”

“This has nothing to do with my comments,” he added. “This has everything to do with the nature of them being bullies.”

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Feds Want Testimony From Katherine Kealoha’s Aging Grandmother Before It’s Too Late https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/03/feds-want-testimony-from-katherine-kealohas-aging-grandmother-before-its-too-late/ Thu, 28 Mar 2019 01:22:59 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1325377 Florence Puana, an alleged victim and key witness in the U.S. Justice Department’s corruption case against former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his prosecutor wife, Katherine, has fallen ill and might not be able to testify at their upcoming criminal trial. In court papers filed Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat said the 99-year-old […]

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Florence Puana, an alleged victim and key witness in the U.S. Justice Department’s corruption case against former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his prosecutor wife, Katherine, has fallen ill and might not be able to testify at their upcoming criminal trial.

In court papers filed Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat said the 99-year-old Puana was hospitalized this week with what he described as a “serious medical condition.”

Wheat’s team now wants a federal judge to authorize an immediate deposition of Puana, should her condition worsen, so that her testimony can be used at trial even if she’s unable to attend.

Gerard and Florence Puana say Katherine Kealoha stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from them. The 99-year-old Florence Puana is now hospitalized with a serious medical condition.

Submitted

According to a declaration from Wheat, Puana has already agreed to participate in the deposition within the next 30 days despite her failing health. A hearing is set for April 5 to see if a judge allows it.

Puana is a central figure in the government’s case against the Kealohas and their alleged co-conspirators.

The Kealohas are accused of framing Florence Puana’s son, Gerard, for the theft of their mailbox in June 2013 with the help of a special unit of police officers.

According to prosecutors, the Kealohas were trying to discredit Gerard Puana in a lawsuit he and his mother had filed months before against his niece, Katherine Kealoha.

The Puanas accused Kealoha of bilking them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars via shady investment deals and a reverse mortgage on Florence Puana’s home that was meant to buy Gerard a condominium.

Additionally, they said Kealoha had spent that money to fund her own lavish lifestyle, which included payments to a Maserati dealer, a trip to Disney Land and a $26,000 party for her husband at the Sheraton Waikiki after he was named Honolulu police chief.

Florence Puana’s testimony at the first trial — focused on the mailbox teft — would be used to help establish the motive behind the alleged framing of Gerard Puana.

That trial against the Kealohas and three of their co-conspirators, Derek Hahn, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and Gordon Shiraishi, is scheduled to begin with jury selection on May 13.

A second trial focusing on the Kelaohas’ alleged financial crimes against the Puanas and other victims, including two siblings Katherine Kealoha is accused of stealing from when they were minors, is scheduled for Oct. 21.

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2019 Is Shaping Up As The Year Of Investigation In Congress https://www.civilbeat.org/2019/03/2019-is-shaping-up-as-the-year-of-investigation-in-congress/ Tue, 12 Mar 2019 10:01:30 +0000 https://www.civilbeat.org/?p=1323358 WASHINGTON — As disgraced lawyer Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee about how his former client, President Donald J. Trump, was a racist, conman and a cheat, U.S. Rep. Ed Case was crafting his own questions for the commander-in-chief. “I was doing my job,” Case said. “I was not glued to a TV.” […]

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WASHINGTON — As disgraced lawyer Michael Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee about how his former client, President Donald J. Trump, was a racist, conman and a cheat, U.S. Rep. Ed Case was crafting his own questions for the commander-in-chief.

“I was doing my job,” Case said. “I was not glued to a TV.”

Cohen appeared before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 27 in what was considered a blockbuster hearing by Capitol Hill standards. The president’s personal lawyer was there to dish on everything from paying off a porn star to his past preparations to lie to Congress.

Case, meanwhile, had his own oversight hearing to attend to as a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case says it’s Congress’s job to be a co-equal branch of government so that it can serve as a check and balance on the Trump administration.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Trump declared a national emergency so he could shift $3.6 billion away from planned military construction projects to fund construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. That decision put more than $311 million worth of Hawaii projects at risk.

Democrats on the Appropriations Committee — including Case — wanted answers from some of Trump’s top defense officials as to what that might mean for military readiness.

The timing couldn’t have been more prescient.

The following day a 42-inch water main burst near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Replacing the 65-year-old Navy pipeline was on the list of projects threatened by Trump’s emergency.

By the weekend Case was on the ground in Honolulu to inspect the damage and use the crisis to reiterate his opposition to proposed diversion of military funds.

Congress 2.0

Now that Democrats have retaken control of the House, accountability reigns.

2019 is expected to be the year of the investigation, as House committee chairs launch inquiries into everything from Trump’s tax returns to his dealings with Russians to the administration’s family separation policy at the border.

Case, who sits on the money committee, sees his role as a financial watchdog.

No Pass For The Executive Branch

He said it’s Congress’s job — not the president’s — to decide where and how the government allocates money, whether it’s to defense, crime-fighting or conservation.

“My responsibility is to ask whether the executive branch is doing a good job or not, and whether it is fulfilling its responsibilities,” Case said.

“My responsibility is not to give the executive branch a pass, no matter who the president is. That was my responsibility the last time I was here. And even if there’s a Democratic president in the future that’s still my responsibility.”

Case also serves as a check to the executive branch on the House Natural Resources Committee.

In January, during the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, Case questioned a series of witnesses about the Interior Department’s decision to keep processing oil and gas drilling permits while other seemingly essential services — such as park safety — were unfunded.

He told Civil Beat that he found the administration’s perspective to be troubling, especially for someone coming from Hawaii, a place that values its natural resources.

“Is there something essential of oil and gas permitting? Of course not,” Case said.

“I’m clearly concerned about the misuse of our public lands. I think this administration has a very cavalier approach to our public lands and doesn’t take conservation seriously. It doesn’t have a conservation ethic. It’s too focused on extraction to the detriment of the environment.”

“I think oversight was completely lacking for the first two years of the Trump administration so we’re playing catch-up.”  — Rep. Ed Case

The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, has already taken aim at the Trump administration’s ties to the fossil fuel industry.

He said he plans to investigate both Ryan Zinke, the ethically challenged former secretary of the Interior, and David Bernhardt, his nominated replacement, who is a former oil lobbyist.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s office did not respond to a Civil Beat request for comment.

Congressman Ed Case, in the aloha shirt, inspects a Navy water main break near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case

The Hawaii congresswoman, who’s running for president as a Democrat, sits on both the House Armed Services Committee and the Financial Services Committee, which is chaired by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

While Case says he takes his oversight duties seriously, he worries that some Democrats might go too far in their pursuit of Trump.

Subpoena power is a right granted to Congress, and Case said the executive branch has a duty to turn over nearly every record that he and his colleagues request.

The danger is when that oversight authority extends beyond being a co-equal branch of government and becomes politicized to the point that it’s just about taking down the president.

“I have no problem with using subpoena authority,” Case said. “I do have a problem with it if it’s simply designed to harass and harangue and to drive the president from office.”

Republicans in both the House and Senate took that type of posture, Case said, while Barack Obama was commander in chief. If Democrats do the same, he said, it will tarnish their credibility with American voters.

And while tensions are high on the Hill, Case said, he doesn’t feel like House Democrats have crossed that imaginary line, one that he admits is easy to describe but hard to pinpoint.

“I think oversight was completely lacking for the first two years of the Trump administration so we’re playing catch-up,” he said.

‘The Ultimate Check And Balance’

So what about impeachment?

Case said that when he ran to represent Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District he met with some constituents who pressed him for his willingness to remove a sitting president.

Case called impeachment “the ultimate check and balance,” and as such said he is cautious when considering it as an option.

So far, only two Democrats, U.S. Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Al Green of Texas, have signed on to an impeachment resolution.

Case says that’s a good indication of just how unpopular it is among his colleagues.

That could change, he said, should new information come to the fore about Trump participating in criminal activity.

Case said it would have to be something that was “categorically illegal” to make him support impeachment. Proven obstruction of justice, he said, might be an example.

“There’s a temptation sometimes when you don’t like a president to go in that direction, which could cause immeasurable damage to the country over time if you impeach prematurely or for the wrong reasons,” Case said. “It would start a ball rolling that would be very hard to stop.”

Like many others, Case is looking forward to reading special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s final report on his investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

He said that report should be made public and not be “censored” by the U.S. attorney general.

Public opinion should also play a role in determining Congress’s actions when it comes to impeaching Trump, Case said. But even then he said he still has a responsibility to make a decision when the time comes, even if it’s unpopular.

“I’m certainly going to listen to my constituents about what they think,” Case said. “But like any other issue there are going to be times that you disagree with your constituents.”

He reserves the right to impeach, he said. “It’s my obligation.”

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