Source: Honolulu Star Advertiser)
Deputy prosecutor- turned-felon Katherine Kealoha shuffled into federal court Thursday wearing an off-white, short-sleeve prison jumpsuit, navy blue boat shoes and shackles around her ankles.
“Very chic,” her lawyer Earle Partington told Kealoha, who smiled.
Thursday’s hearing was called to consider a request by Kealoha’s other attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, to be removed from the case. Kagiwada had been appointed by the court to represent Kealoha because she couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Michael Seabright granted Kagiwada’s request.
Kealoha’s husband and co-defendant, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, also appeared in court with the defense team, wearing dark slacks and a blue aloha shirt.
Thursday was the first time that Katherine Kealoha spoke in court since the jury reached a verdict.
Asked by Seabright whether she had any objection to Kagiwada being removed from defending her, Kealoha said, “No, judge.”
She also suggested that Kagiwada’s request caught her off guard.
“Um, just from my position I have no idea about the withdrawal,” Kealoha told Seabright. “I heard about it on the news.”
As she shuffled her way out of the courtroom, Kealoha blew a kiss to her husband.
Now the search begins for a new, court-appointed attorney who does not have a conflict with any of the witnesses.
“We have to find counsel and the list is getting smaller,” Judge Seabright said.
Partington said he was brought on to defend Kealoha midway into the trial after being hired by Kealoha’s mother, who lives in Colorado.
“I’m in till the end of sentencing (scheduled for October),” Partington told Seabright before adding, “There appears to be no money left from her family.”
Outside of court, Partington said a fictitious notary public who loomed large over the trial — Alison Lee Wong — actually exists and lives in Kaneohe.
Partington said Alison Lee Wong is not a notary public, but did serve as Kealoha’s assistant.
Prosecutors said during the trial that Kealoha created Alison Lee Wong, in part, to notarize a forged revocable living trust in the name of her estranged uncle.
A handwriting expert also testified that Kealoha could have signed the name of “Alison Lee Wong” on the document.
Thursday’s hearing further exposed the rift between Kealoha’s two attorneys during the trial that found Kealoha, her husband and HPD officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and Lt. Derek Wayne Hahn guilty of a felony count each of conspiracy and three felony counts each of obstruction. They face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for the obstruction convictions and up to five years for the conspiracy convictions when they’re scheduled to be sentenced separately in October.
Only Kealoha was ordered into custody at the Federal Detention Center near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport after a federal prosecutor called her “a walking crime spree.”
Following Kealoha’s conviction, Kagiwada filed a motion asking to be removed from defending her.
In her motion, Kagiwada cited “an irretrievable breakdown in the attorney-client relationship, which cannot be reconciled.”
After Thursday’s hearing, Partington filed a 15-page motion accusing Kagiwada of being “ineffective” and “inexperienced.”
Partington’s motion was accompanied by a 13-page declaration by Kealoha, who said her defense was “severely hampered” by Kagiwada.
Kagiwada would not tell reporters exactly what led to her request to get off the case, but she said it will be a challenge to find a new court- appointed attorney who has no conflicts.
“Almost everyone I know has represented somebody” involved in the case, Kagiwada said. “It’s going to be interesting for the court to figure that out.”
A jury last month took just a day of deliberations to unanimously find that the Kealohas and their two accomplices used their positions to stage the theft of a mailbox at the Kealohas’ Kahala home to frame Katherine Kealoha’s estranged uncle in an effort to cover up stealing thousands of dollars from her grandmother.
Katherine Kealoha will now need new representation for two additional trials she faces in federal court: one for bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and obstruction of an official proceeding in connection with a home mortgage loan application, and another for conspiracy to distribute and dispense oxycodone and fentanyl, along with other drug-related charges.