Trial delayed again for ex-Honolulu officials accused in conspiracy case

The group is trying to get special prosecutor Michael Wheat booted from the case alleging conflicts, after he tried and failed to get Leong's attorney
Published: May. 31, 2023 at 5:31 PM HST|Updated: May. 31, 2023 at 5:38 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The conspiracy trial for the former Honolulu officials who orchestrated the payoff of disgraced ex-Police Chief Louis Kealoha could be pushed back until next spring.

The federal judge is considering several motions filed by the defense team of former city attorney Donna Leong, former city managing director Roy Amemiya and former police commission chair Max Sword.

Trial for the group was supposed to start June 26 and last four weeks.

Instead, it might not start until April because of conflicts with the court calendar and other attorneys’ schedules.

Among the issues U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi is considering is a motion by Leong’s attorney, Thomas Otake, to get special prosecutor Michael Wheat booted from the case for alleged conflicts.

This follows a failed attempt by Wheat to get Otake removed ― also for alleged conflicts.

“In my opinion, had Mr. Wheat not filed the first shot and not moved to recuse Tommy Otake, I’m not sure Tommy Otake would be filing a motion to recuse Wheat,” said retired federal public defender Alexander Silvert.

“It’s a little bit of give and take and a little bit of a war going on.”

The defense also said Wheat misled the grand jury and delayed the prosecution until a key witness for the defense died. The government denies those accusations, pointing out that statements were taken by that witness prior to his death.

Otake told the court he also wanted to call Wheat to the stand to answer questions about a phone call between him, FBI agents and Leong. Otake called that a “set up” and a “ruse”.

Additionally, the defense team is trying to get the case thrown out by arguing city administrators had the authority to give a $250,000 retirement package to Kealoha as a way to get him to retire. The government alleges the trio bypassed council approval, which would be required in a settlement deal funded by taxpayers.

Kealoha is now in federal prison for multiple crimes including conspiracy and bank fraud.

Silvert said it’s not unusual for motions to be filed ahead of trial and for the trial to be delayed as the judge reviews the motions ahead of ruling.

Former city prosecutor turned defense attorney Megan Kau said she does not believe the defense is filing motions as a “tactic” to push back trial.

“When I read these motions, they’re very much based on law and the circumstances of this case,” Kau said, adding she was surprised to hear the trial could be delayed to next April.

The judge said she needed time to review the motions.

The judge is also facing court backlogs and is facing has multiple other criminal trials as well as a judicial conference and a medical procedure this year.

The defense attorneys added they had other court cases already set, which would take them into the spring of 2024.

Both the government and the defense team are discussing alternative dates.

It’s possible they break the four-week trial into two segments to speed things up. That could mean trial starts in October, takes a break for other scheduled events, then resumes for two more weeks in November.