High court: Ex-HPD Chief Kealoha was not entitled to city-paid legal representation
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii state Supreme Court said in a ruling Tuesday that the Honolulu Police Commission was wrong when it decided that the city should defend ex-HPD Chief Louis Kealoha in one of Hawaii’s biggest corruption trials.
The High Court said Kealoha didn’t qualify for city legal representation because he acted in his own self-interest when he helped frame his wife’s uncle, Gerard Puana, to gain leverage in a civil dispute over money.
“Kealoha’s duties did not include overseeing a criminal conspiracy to hide his and his wife’s misappropriation of funds belonging to others,” the justices wrote.
“Nothing in this record indicated that Kealoha was acting in any way to perform his duties as chief of police.”
The ruling doesn’t shield the city from the lawsuit filed by Puana for violating his civil rights. That lawsuit was recently settled with the city agreeing to pay Puana $2.85 million.
But lawyers said the ruling does apply to other police officers accused of misconduct.
“You can’t just go in and say, ‘hey, I was in my uniform in my car, and therefore you should provide me a defense,’” said Puana’s lawyer Eric Seitz.
“Police officers have now got to go before the commission ... provide some way to convince the police commission that their actions were in some way carrying out their responsibilities as police officers.”
The commission’s decision to approve Kealoha’s legal defense was controversial from the start.
The police commission ruled in 2019 that Kealoha was entitled to taxpayer-funded legal defense because some of his criminal actions were done while performing his duties as a police officer.
The city, however, disagreed with the thinking and appealed the decision.
City taxpayers wound up not footing the bill because a court-appointed attorney represented him in his federal criminal trial.
Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, were convicted in the far-reaching public corruption scandal along with two ex-Honolulu police officers. They are all now serving time in federal prison.
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