Taxpayers to pay for police chief's private attorneys in 4 civil cases

Honolulu taxpayers will pay even more for lawsuits involving police chief
Updated: Nov. 11, 2016 at 6:55 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city plans to hire private attorneys to represent embattled Police Chief Louis Kealoha in at least four civil lawsuits against him.

City Council members are expected to be briefed on the situation next week, but are already calling the situation concerning.

City staff attorneys are typically used to defend the Honolulu Police Department and its chief.

But Kealoha and his deputy prosecutor wife, Katherine, asked for the private representation months ago, saying the city attorneys can't defend them while the couple is also suing the city in separate cases. The Kealohas are suing multiple city agencies investigating them for wrongdoing.

The recent decision shows that the city agrees with the couple. Taxpayers will be asked to pay three private law firms to represent the chief in four cases.

One case centers on the death of Sheldon Haleck, who was tased repeatedly outside Iolani Palace last year. Police said he was acting erratically and trying to run from officers. Haleck had meth in his system and the combination of the drug and the taser proved deadly.

The attorney for his family, Eric Seitz, says police used excessive force.

Seitz says the change from city to private attorneys will prove disruptive.

"He's accepted representation from the corporation counsel for all the time that he's been chief up until now," he said. "All of a sudden he thinks it's in his own self interest to get his own lawyer and that's going to cost hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for taxpayers, which may not be necessary."

It's unclear how much the private attorneys for the cases will cost, but it's likely to be in the millions.

"When will it end?" said Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi, in response to the news.

The Kealohas lawsuits against the city have been criticized widely, and called acts of desperation. The couple are facing an FBI probe for public corruption.

"This is the taxpayers' money and taxpayers expect that their money isn't used for these legal cases involving the police chief and the police department," Kobayashi said. "They want to see money going to fixing our parks, repairing our roads, picking up our trash on time."

But Ron Menor, chairman of the Council's Committee for Executive Matters and Legal Affairs, said it appears the council doesn't have a choice in the matter.

Louis Kealoha has declined numerous requests for comment on these cases and the federal investigation.

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