Nearly $700,000 in public money has been spent on attorney fees and other related expenses for the court-appointed defenses of Katherine and Louis Kealoha and a police officer in their public corruption prosecutions.
And the total is expected to climb higher.
Gary Singh, a court-appointed attorney for Katherine Kealoha, a former deputy prosecutor, has yet to submit his reimbursement vouchers to the federal court.
In addition, some invoices that were submitted but still unprocessed as of last week were not included in the roughly $697,000 in payments that had been made, according to the court.
The court-appointed attorneys also are representing their clients at sentencing, which is scheduled for March, and will incur more costs by then.
Victor Bakke, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor, questioned the still-mounting defense tab.
“That sounds insane,” said Bakke, who is not connected to the Kealoha cases. “It just seems extremely excessive.”
But Rustam Barbee, court- appointed attorney for Louis Kealoha, the retired Honolulu Police Department chief, said what the federal government has spent to pursue the cases is far more than the defense tab.
Since the investigation started in 2015, the prosecution has paid for aerial surveillance, dozens of FBI agents working on the probe, four to five prosecuting attorneys flying back and forth from their offices in San Diego, weekly grand jury proceedings and a host of other services, Barbee said.
“The cost of the defense pales in comparison to what the government spent,” he added.
Barbee also noted that the hourly rate paid to court-appointed attorneys in the federal system — the rate has been raised several times since 2015 and now stands at $148 — still is roughly half what defense attorneys can charge in privately funded cases.
The court appoints attorneys for criminal defendants who it determines cannot afford to hire their own. It also approves services, such as the hiring of experts, to be paid through the program.
The Kealohas and two then- police officers, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and Derek Wayne Hahn, were convicted in June of conspiracy and obstruction for trying to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for a mailbox theft he didn’t commit and then lying to federal investigators about their actions. The Kealohas and the uncle were involved in a financial dispute.
The Kealohas also pleaded guilty to a bank fraud charge in a separate case stemming from the government’s public corruption investigation. Katherine Kealoha also pleaded guilty to aggravated identity theft in that case.
And she pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony — not reporting a felony — in the third case prosecutors brought against her. That case involved drug-related charges.
Of the nearly $700,000 in defense expenses approved as of Nov. 5, Katherine Kealoha racked up the largest share, according to court data.
The tab for her defense in the mailbox and bank fraud cases totaled about $409,000, including $206,444 in fees paid to her former court-appointed attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada; about $150,000 in paralegal services; $30,900 paid to a Kagiwada associate; and nearly $20,000 in miscellaneous expenses, the data show. No total was listed for the drug case.
Kagiwada declined comment.
Louis Kealoha’s defense for the two cases totaled about $250,000, including $154,786 in fees paid to Barbee; about $78,000 in expert services fees; $2,000 in transcript costs; and about $16,000 in miscellaneous expenses.
For Nguyen’s defense in the mailbox case, the tab reached nearly $37,000, including $32,482 in fees to his court-appointed attorney Randall Hironaka, according to court data.
Hironaka did not respond to a request for comment.
Hahn’s attorney, Birney Bervar, was not court- appointed. Neither was Lars Isaacson, who represented retired HPD Maj. Gordon Shiraishi, the only defendant to be acquitted in the mailbox case.
Singh, who was appointed to represent Katherine Kealoha in the bank fraud and drug cases after she was convicted in the mailbox case, declined comment for this story.
On Friday, U.S. District Chief Judge J. Michael Seabright approved a motion by attorney Earle Partington to withdraw as Katherine Kealoha’s attorney in the mailbox case and appointed Singh to represent her in that one as well.
During the latter part of the June trial, Partington was hired by Kealoha’s family to join her defense team. After the trial, Kagiwada withdrew as counsel, leaving Partington to represent her in that case.
In approving Partington’s request to withdraw, Seabright said it made sense to have one attorney rather than two represent Kealoha at sentencing.
Kealoha agreed. “We felt it was best we move forward this way,” she told the judge.
Singh, who had not previously been involved with the mailbox case, asked Seabright to postpone the March sentencing date to give him more time to prepare.
The judge denied the request.
“Buckle up,” he told Singh.