HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Circuit Court judge has ruled there was prosecutorial misconduct in a high-profile alleged gambling case that resulted in hundreds of sweepstakes machines being seized, nine people being arrested, and a 414-count indictment -- the largest in the state's history.
Among the accusations, defense attorneys say prosecutors misrepresented evidence and knowingly used a gambling expert to testify even though the expert wasn't certified in the sweepstakes machines in question.
Judge Randal Lee dismissed the case without prejudice -- meaning prosecutors will have the opportunity to re-file charges.
Defense attorneys argued the state should not get a "do-over" saying the state has caused irreparable damage and irreversible harm to the lives of all nine defendants with prosecutors' half-truths and outright lies.
Prosecutors admitted mistakes were made, but said when they realized they had errors in their case, they moved to have the charges dropped so that they could re-file them correctly.
In his ruling, Judge Lee described the state's indictment as "flawed from the beginning" -- saying there was "absolutely no evidence of gambling" presented. However, he said given the fact gambling is illegal in Hawai'i, Judge Lee was compelled to take the state's concerns seriously and allow prosecutors to try again. Judge Lee did disqualify Deputy Prosecutors Katherine Kealoha and Jake Delaplane from any involvement in future cases.
"Mr. Delaplane and Mrs. Kealoha were over their heads. They lacked the experience necessary to dot the i's and cross the t's and make the connections necessary to present all of the evidence," said Judge Lee.
"The judge found the prosecutors to be completely inexperienced. He said they were over their heads. And they were disingenuous in their testimony before the court. And the result of all that nothing. Not even a sanction, not even a referral to the disciplinary counsel. They were simply given carte blanche to re-file the charges," said defense attorney Victor Bakke.
"I think that these were inadvertent mistakes that were made. This was a very confusing situation as far as the ownership issues and I think there's legitimate reasons to see that mistakes were made," explained Kaina Awong, a Deputy Prosecutor.
Defense attorneys have challenged Kealoha's involvement in the case from the very beginning. The grand jury indictment earlier this year came after a federal judge ruled people who use Products Direct Sweepstakes machines are gambling. Prosecutors say machines allowing players to bet on games of chance with the opportunity to win cash rewards constitute gambling, which is illegal in Hawai'i. The federal ruling stemmed from a civil lawsuit against the city after police seized machines from game rooms.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro and Kealoha's husband, Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, were both named in the civil suit. Katherine Kealoha has been on indefinite personal leave since September 23. The federal case is currently in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The defense attorneys say it was suspect that all nine people arrested were part of that civil lawsuit.
Not all nine defendants were present in court today, but those who were expressed their disappointment with the judge's ruling -- saying their life and livelihoods remain in limbo now that they face being re-indicted.