HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Attorney Eric Seitz is calling for the removal of the head of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel after the ODC cleared embattled lawyer and Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha of ethical violations.
"It's just incredible. How can anyone say based on the public record that she didn't likely commit ethical violations. Maybe you hold proceedings in obeyance but you don't send out this kind of letter," said Seitz, the lawyer for Gerard Puana, who filed the ethics complaint against Kealoha.
"This is the watchdog for the lawyers in Hawaii. In my view … the watchdog is incompetent and unethical and ought to be removed."
On Oct. 19,2017, a federal grand jury indicted Kealoha on conspiracy, obstruction of justice and fraud charges. Her husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, faces similar public corruption and fraud charges.
The Kealohas have pleaded not guilty and the case is still pending.
Many of the fraud allegations in the indictment are similar to those raised in a civil dispute between Kealoha and Puana, who alleges he spent six months in jail on trumped up charges.
In a Jan. 8, 2018 letter to Puana, the ODC's head, Chief Disciplinary Counsel Bruce Kim, cleared Katherine Kealoha of any ethical violations, writing:
"Please be advised that your complaint against Katherine Kealoha has been closed and no further action will taken at this time ... Our office is unable to determine by clear and convincing evidence that an ethical violation occurred in this case," Kim said.
When Hawaii News Now questioned the ODC on how it reached its decision, it back-tracked, saying its investigation is now "on hold" and is not complete.
"As criminal proceedings against Hawaii lawyer Katherine Kealoha are pending in the federal court, the Disciplinary Board has stayed its investigation against the lawyer pending disposition of the criminal case," said Bradley Tamm, counsel for the Disciplinary Board.
"Presently, Ms. Kealoha is on voluntary inactive status, and thus should not be engaged in the current practice of law. Once the criminal matter is decided, the investigation hold will be lifted and ODC will be directed to proceed pursuant to the Rules of the Hawaii Supreme Court."
Kealoha's attorney Cynthia Kagiwada could not be reached.