In bizarre twist, head of public defender’s office that exposed Kealoha corruption is ousted

Published: Jan. 7, 2020 at 10:55 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The head of the federal public defender’s office in Hawaii is being pushed out after 24 years, in a move many in the legal community are questioning.

It was Peter Wolff’s office and his chief deputy public defender, Alexander Silvert, who first exposed the crimes of ex-Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, once a deputy prosecutor.

Lawyers say the decision to oust Wolff is bizarre.

“He does his job and he does it well," said attorney Victor Bakke.

Brook Hart, who was once Wolff’s law partner, described him as “diligent, caring, focused and competent, highly competent.”

Ken Lawson of the University of Hawaii Law School was also eager to throw praise.

“He’s top notch. He cares about the people he represents,” he said.

The three lawyers say they were stunned to learn a committee of judges with the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit didn’t recommend Wolff for a seventh term after his current term expires in July.

The federal public defender position is one Wolff has held since 1996 and many believe the sudden change is connected to the Kealoha public corruption scandal.

Silvert was defending a Kealoha relative, Gerard Puana, who was being prosecuted for stealing the Kealoha’s mailbox. Silvert found evidence that Puana was actually framed for the crime because the Kealohas were stealing money from family members.

Silvert took his evidence to the FBI, launching the massive federal case that resulted in convictions of the Kealohas and two police officers last year.

“It’s a strange coincidence and it deserves to be looked at. It really does. Why now?” Lawson said.

Bakke called it retaliation. “Those people had power," he said.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever know why Wolff isn’t being renewed. The entire process is secret. The names of those who submitted testimony for or against Wolff isn’t even released.

Wolff will remain with the office through the end of his term unless he’s asked to leave earlier.

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