City seeks more funding for firms to fight lawsuit
City Corporation Counsel Donna Leong is asking the Council to provide additional taxpayer money to the three firms because of the ongoing nature of the Kealoha lawsuit.
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When then-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his family sued the city Ethics Commission, the City Council was asked to provide up to $100,000 each to three downtown law firms to represent the commission, former commission Executive Director Chuck Totto and former commission investigator Letha DeCaires.
The Council approved the $300,000 in drawdown appropriations in August.
Now, city Corporation Counsel Donna Leong is asking the Council to provide additional taxpayer money to the three firms because of the ongoing nature of the Kealoha lawsuit. The trial has not yet begun.
Leong declined Thursday to disclose how much more is being sought.
If the requests are approved by the Council Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee at its meeting Tuesday, the dollar amounts will need to be disclosed publicly before final votes are held by the full Council, likely at its April 26 meeting.
In a written statement, Leong said “additional funds are required due to the number of parties and issues involved.” The three outside counsel firms are “working as efficiently as possible,” she said.
The lawsuit was filed by Kealoha and his wife, city Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, and their daughter, who is not yet 18.
Kealoha retired as chief effective March 1 after receiving a target letter from federal authorities informing him that he was being investigated. The investigation alleges corruption, conspiracy and other wrongdoing that involve both Kealohas, other police officers and possibly others. Katherine Kealoha remains a deputy prosecutor.
Because of the conflict posed by the Kealohas’ lawsuit against Totto and the city, the Council has approved paying three different sets of attorneys $160,000 to represent the chief in those five cases.
The lawsuit claims that the commission, through the former executive director and DeCaires, “conducted a series of unfounded, vindictive, unsubstantiated and illegal investigations” against the Kealohas that caused irreparable harm not only to them, but to the Honolulu Police Department and the City Prosecutor’s Office.
Totto retired in June following several years of clashes with Leong, whose agency the Ethics Commission falls under for budgetary purposes, and commission members appointed by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. DeCaires left the commission in September 2015.
The lawsuit claims Totto and DeCaires were “making incessant demands” upon various city agencies “for documents and information of questionable importance or even relevance.”
Further, the lawsuit states, “with callous disregard for the lives of and reputations of others, and the demoralizing effect their vicious conduct has had on a number of county agencies and employees, both Totto and DeCaires have to date committed serious ethical, moral and professional violations with complete impunity.”
The lawsuit alleges that “besotted by unchecked power,” Totto applied ethics laws inconsistently and arbitrarily in order to help himself and friends, and punish his enemies.