HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Legal experts are weighing-in after the Honolulu Police Chief, Louis Kealoha, and his Deputy Prosecutor wife, Katherine, sued the city's Ethics Commission -- claiming they are victims of "vindictive" attacks that have damaged their professional and personal reputations.
"Because they're high-powered, high-profile individuals in a position of extreme responsibility -- they should be cooperating with the Ethics investigation, not challenging it," said criminal defense lawyer Victor Bakke.
"It's do or die in the legal sense. It's like either we're going to continue letting this avalanche come at us or we need to start fighting back and we need something to fight with," explained Ken Lawson, a faculty member at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Richardson School of Law.
The complaint is the third lawsuit the Kealohas have filed against the city -- though this one specifically names the former Ethics Commission Executive Director, Charles Totto, and his lead investigator, Letha Decaires -- a former Honolulu police officer.
The lawsuit alleges the Kealohas were victims of personal vendettas by Totto and Decaires.
The couple claims that a series of "unsubstantiated and illegal" investigations by the city's Ethics Commission directly resulted in a federal probe that lead to a federal grand jury looking into potential criminal charges.
"When your back is against the wall and they're coming after you -- they being the federal government -- and the only thing between you and prison is your lawyer and your fight, you've got to bring it. If you're going to go down -- you go down swinging," described Lawson.
After months of headlines about a federal investigation into the Honolulu Police Chief and his Deputy Prosecutor wife, legal experts believe the latest lawsuit filed in Circuit Court last week is intended to sway public perception.
"All they're trying to do at this point is just find a forum that will allow them to get their side of the case out to defend these allegations -- but they're not saying they didn't do anything wrong, they're just saying that everyone else is out to get them -- which is complete rubbish," said Bakke.
The Kealohas allege they were treated unfairly -- claiming that while the Ethics Commission took it easy on others, they were subjected to intense scrutiny and punishment. They paint Chuck Totto as vengeful after the police chief complained about a tactic he used during ethics training. They also described Letha Decaires as "invested in retribution" after she was passed over for the chief's job.
"If you're the Ethics Commission, right? You want to be above reproach also, right? Because you are the commission investigating whether everything is ethical, so to use a former employee of the police department to investigate the highest ranking member of the police department doesn't pass the smell test. For this reason -- even if the person is being fair -- they're going to be accussed of being unfair," explained Lawson.
Many point out what the federal grand jury is investigating is far more serious than what the city's Ethics Commission has looked into. The Kealohas are potentially facing criminal charges for corruption and abuse of power.
"I think this is nothing but a ridiculous attempt by the Kealohas to divert attention away from them for a number of accused wrongdoings -- when what they should really do is sit back, cooperate with the investigation, keep their mouths shut until the case is over and the investigation is over and deal with the results because if they're cleared, then what's the problem with a thorough or rigorous investigation? They don't like being subjected to what they do to people every single day -- and that's what makes this case so upsetting. Why doesn't the law and the rules apply to the Kealohas? It never seems to in their world. When the rules are turned on them, they cry foul. So that alone says something about these people's character and whether or not they're even fit to hold the positions they're in," said Bakke.
Those questions are raised by the lawsuit itself, which alleges Chief Louis Kealoha quote - "suffered damage to his command" and that Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha quote "has been damaged in her ability to perform her job".
Important to the lawsuit is the claim that leaks from the Ethics Commission investigations led to the federal probe. However, the federal public defender has said in the past that all of the evidence turned over to the FBI came from his offices' investigation and involves only criminal matters.
Hawaii News Now reached out to both the Kealoha's attorney and the lawyer representing Totto, but neither returned calls for comment.