Kealoha corruption case exposes lack of available court-appointed attorneys

Kealoha case highlighting lack of available court-appointed attorneys

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Katherine Kealoha has had a long list of attorneys since the FBI started investigating the former Honolulu deputy prosecutor.

Attorney Myles Breiner leaves the federal courthouse with Katherine Kealoha in 2016.
Attorney Myles Breiner leaves the federal courthouse with Katherine Kealoha in 2016.

Now she has new, taxpayer funded lawyer, Gary Singh, to represent her in the remaining two, corruption trials.

Singh already represented a grand jury witness against Kealoha, but the court is allowing him to continue with waivers.

Gary Signh, Katherine Kealoha's attorney arrives at federal court
Gary Signh, Katherine Kealoha's attorney arrives at federal court

Other attorneys have expressed concern about that decision, including William Harrison, who also represents a potential witness in the trial.

“I think the courts are allowing it because there aren’t many options left,” Harrison said.

There are 37 attorneys a federal judge can appoint in Hawaii. With the Kealoha case, five of them are immediately excluded because they only work cases on appeal, or practice solely on the neighbor islands.

List of Federal court-appointed attorneys in Hawaii
List of Federal court-appointed attorneys in Hawaii

Twelve others are then removed for conflicts: Some defended Kealoha or her husband, the ex police chief. Others were assigned to co-defendants. Many more of the remaining lawyers are excluded because they represent witnesses.

That leaves just about half of the total list.

Remaining taxpayers funded attorneys available in Kealoha corruption case
Remaining taxpayers funded attorneys available in Kealoha corruption case

This isn’t a problem unique to the Kealoha corruption scandal. Large drug raids have also been an issue.

One narcotics bust netted 40 defendants and forced the courts to use lawyers not listed.

The federal government pays $148 an hour. In the private sector that same attorney could charge twice that amount.

Harrison says a lot of attorneys also don’t think it’s worth it because of all the paperwork required to fill out and maintain.

“You have to apply, you have to be screened and then placed on this list,” Harrison hasn’t been on the panel in more than twenty years.

Many supplement their private practice with occasional court appointed work.

Attorney Peter Wolfe of the Federal Public Defender’s Office says it is a balance for the courts, “You have to have a list that’s big enough to provide a variety of people who can take these cases, but it also has to be small enough that they have enough recurring cases.”

If Gary Singh is conflicted out of the trial for Kealoha down the road, that would leave only 19 in Hawaii available to represent her, future defendants or witnesses who cannot afford their own attorneys.

That could be a problem because there are at least two more trials for Kealoha, and other government officials also received target letters from the Department of Justice, indicating the scandal is far from over.

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