The Hawaii Supreme Court has overturned a former Circuit Court judge’s order disqualifying two deputy prosecuting attorneys from a high-profile gambling case involving sweepstakes machines.
In December, Circuit Court Judge Randal K.O. Lee ruled that attorneys Katherine Kealoha and Jacob Delaplanes were disqualified from handling the case because the attorneys lacked necessary experience.
In May 2014, a grand jury indicted nine defendants on 414 counts of gambling, money laundering and racketeering in connection with sweepstakes machines Honolulu police had seized from arcades on Oahu in September 2012.
At the state’s request, Lee dismissed the case in October and gave the prosecutor the opportunity to seek a new indictment because Delaplane told the court he had identified potential deficiencies in the indictment. Delaplane said he also wanted to pursue additional defendants.
The lawyers for the nine defendants cried foul because the request to dismiss came one day after Lee denied the state’s request for more time to answer allegations that Delaplane and Kealoha knowingly presented false information to the grand jury.
In his opinion, Lee said whatever misconduct was committed by the deputy prosecutors when they presented the case in front of the grand jury in May, was probably done due to their inexperience. He therefore denied the defendants’ request to throw out the case for good.
In February, the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney challenged Lee’s order to disqualify the deputy prosecuting attorneys in the Hawaii Supreme Court. In a petition to the court, Delaplane argued that Lee’s order was based on information that was “clearly insufficient to support disqualification” due to a “lack a proper factual basis” and was “not part of the ‘considered evaluation’ required” by the court.
The petition further stated that Lee’s order resulted in immediate and irreparable harm because it “seriously disrupts the progress of litigation and decisively sullies the reputation of the affected attorneys.”
In its ruling on Tuesday, the Hawaii Supreme Court overturned and invalidated Lee’s order, noting that “the basis upon which the circuit court grounded disqualification is insufficient.”
Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro said in a news release: “Lee’s order was illegal, and today the highest court in the state recognized that.” He added, “We stand ready to move forward with the prosecution of this case to ensure that the people involved in these organized crime and gambling operations are brought to justice.”