Defense attorneys in Kealoha corruption case face heat over questionable practices

Legal experts say the Kealoha's attorneys not only at risk of being kicked off case, legal practices put in jeopardy
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Legal experts say questions surrounding the attorneys for the former police chief and his deputy prosecutor wife are extremely troubling.

And, they say, the issue could have far-reaching effects, and not just for Louis and Katherine Kealoha.

"A conflict of interest is the least of their worries when I look at all that information," said Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law.

Lawson is referring to the information in the 27-page motion filed Friday by the federal special prosecutor last Friday. It seeks the disqualification of the legal team of Myles Breiner and Kevin Sumida.

The two attorneys originally represented both the former Honolulu police chief and his wife.

Now, they only represent Katherine Kealoha in the ongoing criminal case relating to civil rights violations and public corruption.

The motion says that past representation by both attorneys prevents the Kealohas from turning against each other.

"While they currently present a unified defense, it may well be in their individual best interest to adopt divergent defenses," the motion said.

Lawson agrees.

"When you read the initial indictment, there's a lot of things she was doing that he may not have known," he said, about Louis Kealoha. "He may say 'I don't want to go down with the ship, so I may want to testify against her.'"

Both the Kealohas were indicted by a federal grand jury last month on 20 counts, charges that include lying to federal agents, conspiracy to obstruct, identity theft and fraud. Four other current or former Honolulu Police Officers are also charged in the case. All have pleaded "not guilty."

Lawson said the exhibits and details in the motion to disqualify the legal team exposes more than just the attorneys' potential conflicts, but possibly questionable practices that, he argues, should get both Breiner and Sumida investigated by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

One of those issues: The federal prosecutor says Sumida provided Katherine Kealoha with a key to his law office, where she allegedly took a witness who testified at the grand jury against her. Federal authorities have accused her of tampering with witnesses and evidence.

"She's a prosecutor, (Sumida) represents criminal defendants and you give the prosecutor the key to your office to go in when you're not there?" said Lawson, "And everybody's files are in your office? That was troublesome."

Even worse, Lawson said, was that Breiner took on the Kealohas even though he was representing several other people who were suing or had sued over police brutality or wrongful prosecution.

"If you're going to be a criminal defense attorney, and you're fighting for people who can't fight for themselves, and as soon as you get a big case -- against the people who've been violating your own clients rights for years -- you choose to represent them? And throw everyone else under the bus? There's something rotten about that," Lawson said.

Sumida did not respond to a request for comment as he walked out of court Monday. Breiner has not responded to repeated requests for comment concerning the federal motion.

The next hearing on the motion to disqualify the lawyers is scheduled for Wednesday.

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