By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
The pandemic has further postponed a drug-dealing trial against the pain physician brother of a former Hawaii prosecutor, Katherine Kealoha, who is imprisoned in a corruption case that also took down her former police chief husband.
Attorneys said during a hearing Thursday that they agreed to postpone the trial of Dr. Rudolph Puana from December to March.
According to federal prosecutors, Puana prescribed oxycodone to his friends so that they could sell the pills for easy cash and that some of it funded cocaine parties with the doctor. Puana “strongly disputes the allegations,” his attorney has said.
Puana’s sister, Katherine Kealoha, pleaded guilty in 2019 to using her position as a deputy prosecutor to protect him from a drug- dealing investigation. She entered the plea after a jury found her and her now-estranged husband guilty of conspiracy in a separate case alleging they plotted to frame a relative to keep him from revealing fraud that financed their lavish lifestyle. She is serving a 13-year prison sentence, and her husband, Louis Kealoha, is serving a seven-year sentence.
At an earlier hearing Tuesday, U.S. Judge J. Michael Seabright said he’s not inclined to inform potential jurors about Puana’s relation- ship to the Kealoha case.
An assistant U.S. attorney and Puana’s defense attorney agreed, saying knowledge of the relationship could taint the jury pool.
The trial already had been postponed previously to December because of concerns masks worn to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would make it difficult to select a fair jury without lawyers being able see potential jurors’ facial expressions.
It’s being postponed again because of the pandemic’s uncertainty. Puana’s attorney, F. Clinton Broden, said he wouldn’t want his client to spend money getting witnesses to Hawaii only for pandemic conditions to force plans to change.
Meanwhile, Broden filed a motion earlier this week asking for no mention or evidence at trial about the “public controversy surrounding opioid use” — including references to terms such as “opioid epidemic” or “opioid crisis.”
“References to the public controversy surrounding opioid use would serve no purpose other than to imply to the jury that Dr. Puana is ‘guilty-by-association’ or that convicting Dr. Puana would address a social problem,” Broden said in the court document.