Honolulu City Council questions payment of Louis Kealoha’s legal fees
It’s likely the Hawaii Judiciary will decide whether Honolulu taxpayers will pay the tab for former Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s defense in the high-profile federal conspiracy case.
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It’s likely the Hawaii Judiciary will decide whether Honolulu taxpayers will pay the tab for former Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s defense in the high-profile federal conspiracy case now unfolding in U.S. District Court.
The City Council Executive Matters Committee voted 7-0 Thursday to approve Resolution 19-125, which directs the city’s top civil attorneys to appeal the Honolulu Police Commission’s decision to approve paying Kealoha’s legal fees in the so-called mailbox case.
The federal case revolves around an alleged plot by Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, to frame her uncle to cast negative light on him in the midst of a family legal dispute. Other former and current police officers are also defendants.
The full Council is slated to take a final vote on the resolution Wednesday.
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.
The Police Commission voted 4-1 on March 20 to approve an unspecified amount to Kealoha for attorney fees tied to his defense in the mailbox case brought by federal prosecutors. The commission went against the advice of the Department of Corporation Counsel by voting to OK the funding.
Currently, Kealoha’s legal representation is being funded through the federal court system.
The commission concluded “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.”
But Council members reject that notion, and Executive Matters Committee Chairman Ron Menor urged colleagues to support the resolution.
“I do not believe that former Chief Kealoha has met the legal standard under state law in which he would be entitled to have the city pay for outside counsel in this ongoing federal criminal case,” Menor said. “I think that the vast majority of our constituents would strongly object to using taxpayer dollars for the purposes of paying for former Chief Kealoha’s attorney’s fees.”
Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson agreed. “When a Honolulu police officer decides to knowingly file a false report and also decides to participate in falsely framing someone for a crime, those actions obviously fall outside the scope of a police officer acting in their official duties,” he said.
Police Commission Chairwoman Loretta Sheehan and Commissioner Steven Levinson have said they have no issue with the Council appealing their decision and think a court ruling could provide guidance on how the city should approach future requests for legal fees.