Chief wants private attorneys to represent him in police misconduct cases

Exclusive: Chief asks to be represented by private attorneys in police misconduct cases

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha wants the city to hire private attorneys to defend him in a series of lawsuits alleging police misconduct.

Kealoha is named in at least half a dozen of those suits and city lawyers are defending the chief and the officers.

But in a letter to the city, Kealoha's attorney Kevin Sumida said those lawyers are in conflict because they also represent the city in Kealoha's lawsuit against the city Ethics Commission.

"We demand that your office immediately withdraw as his counsel and appoint independent and separate counsel to represent him," Sumida wrote.

Sumida's letter prompted a judge to put a hold on one of the civil cases.

That case involves North Shore resident Jonah Kaahu, who was beaten by police officers back in 2012.

U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor also referred the question of the apparent conflict to the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which oversees attorney conduct.

The same apparent conflict exists in several of the most notorious police misconduct lawsuits, including a game room beating case and the baton beating of a man bothering monk seal.

"The basic problem here is you have Mr. Kealoha suing the city and you've got the city defending Mr. Kealoha on a variety of lawsuits," said University of Hawaii Law Professor Randy Roth.

"It certainly on the surface looks like there could be a conflict of interest."

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said private attorneys will cost the city much more than city-employed lawyers.

"There's a lot of uses for that money. We could use it elsewhere if we didn't have all of these cases," she said.

City lawyers said they will hire special attorneys to defend the city in the Kealoha ethics lawsuit, but that it's too early to say how they'll handle the brutality cases.

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