Former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha — who faces a barrage of criminal charges in two separate trials in federal court — keeps looking for ways to have city taxpayers foot his legal bills.

This week Kealoha’s civil attorney, Kevin Sumida, filed a challenge in state Circuit Court that seeks to overturn a Honolulu Police Commission decision that effectively blocked his access to city-funded legal counsel in a criminal case involving bank fraud and identity theft.

Former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha arrive at District Court. June 6, 2019
Former HPD chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, are both on trial in a criminal conspiracy case involving allegations they framed a family member. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It’s a complicated scenario, but it hinges on a state law that says that whenever a cop is prosecuted for a crime or sued in a civil action related to work they did as a police officer they’re entitled to taxpayer-funded legal counsel.

In Kealoha’s case, he and his wife, Katherine, a former prosecutor, are accused of framing her uncle, Gerard Puana for the 2013 theft of their mailbox with the help of several police officers.

Their trial is currently underway in federal court.

The Kealohas also face a series of criminal charges for alleged financial crimes related to but separate from the frame job conspiracy.

Louis Kealoha asked the Honolulu Police Commission to pick up his legal tab in both cases, but he received a split decision. The commission decided he was entitled to legal fees in the mailbox case, but not the financial crimes case, which is ultimately what led to Sumida’s challenge.

Sumida has said the Kealohas owe him hundreds of thousands of dollars from his previous representation of the couple, a debt he has struggled to collect.

An added wrinkle in all this is that a federal judge has already determined that the Kealohas couldn’t afford their own attorneys and appointed publicly funded counsel to defend them.

That same judge has said he has no intention of appointing Sumida to represent Louis Kealoha, and that if the city ultimately decides to pick up his legal fees that it should plan to reimburse the federal court.

The Honolulu City Council, meanwhile, wants to block any payment of Kealoha’s legal fees, and has since approved its own legal challenge to the police commission’s decision to pay for some of Kealoha’s costs.

Something to consider...

Civil Beat is a small, independent newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism.

The truth is that less than 2% of our monthly readers are financial supporters. To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.

Will you consider making a tax-deductible gift today?

About the Author