(Source: Star Advertiser)
In what would be an unprecedented move, several Honolulu City Council members want to take the Honolulu Police Commission to court over whether the city should pay former Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s legal fees.
Councilman Ron Menor, chairman of the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, said Tuesday he is introducing a resolution calling on city attorneys to appeal the commission’s decision to Hawaii Circuit Court.
The federal conspiracy case against Kealoha and his wife, former Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, is set to begin today.
The Honolulu City Charter calls for the Police Commission to decide requests for outside legal counsel by officers. But the charter leaves it up to the City Council to approve the use of city funds for attorneys’ fees. Any request must first get past Menor’s EMLA Committee.
The commission voted 4-1 on March 20 to approve an unspecified amount to Kealoha for attorney fees tied to his defense in the so-called mailbox case brought by federal prosecutors. The commission went against the advice of the Department of Corporation Counsel, the city’s chief legal arm, by voting to OK the funding.
The decision concluded that the “Kealoha’s alleged acts … were done in the performance of Kealoha’s duty as a police officer so as to entitle him to be represented and defended by an attorney to be employed and paid by the City and County of Honolulu.”
In late March, Menor and then-interim Council Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi asked the commission to reconsider its decision.
Commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that it is against commission rules to reconsider such a decision.
Menor said Tuesday that he and others on the Council continue to disagree with the conclusion that Kealoha’s alleged actions were done in the performance of his duty as a police officer.
“The criminal indictment against Mr. Kealoha alleges that he coordinated and conspired with other police officers to frame his wife’s uncle in connection with a personal dispute involving his wife and relatives,” Menor said. “These are not the kinds of actions that a police officer would be doing in performance of his official duty. Moreover, the events related to Mr. Kealoha appear to have taken place at his personal residence and on a weekend when he would have been off duty.”
Furthermore, Menor said, city taxpayers shouldn’t assume the bill for Kealoha’s outside counsel because he already has an attorney to represent him in the criminal trial appointed for him by the federal court.
Both Sheehan and Commissioner Stephen Levinson said they they have no issue with the Council appealing their decision.
“Guidance from the Circuit Courts, and Hawaii’s appellate courts, can only clarify the interpretation of (Hawaii statutes on the issue),” Sheehan said. “It’s understandable, commendable even, that the City Council would try to protect the Honolulu taxpayer from Chief Kealoha’s legal fees, especially since Chief Kealoha qualified for free legal counsel from the federal government.”
Levinson, a former Hawaii Supreme Court justice, said it’s the Council’s prerogative to appeal. “I believe that we would all benefit from some guidance from the Hawaii appellate courts, should the matter go that far.”