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Taxpayer-Funded Attorney, Convicted Ex-Prosecutor Part Ways

Caleb Jones

HONOLULU — A former prosecutor convicted of conspiracy in what's been described as Hawaii's biggest corruption case said she should get a new trial because her defense attorney was ineffective.

A lawyer representing ex-Honolulu deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha filed a motion Thursday saying her former attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, is inexperienced. Kagiwada's failings included not properly preparing witnesses, the motion said.

Kagiwada declined to comment.

Shortly before the motion was filed, a judge granted Kagiwada's request to withdraw as Kealoha's attorney, citing a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship.

Kealoha was convicted last month along with her retired police chief husband Louis Kealoha in a plot to frame her uncle. Katherine Kealoha was taken into federal custody because of concerns she would try to obstruct justice if allowed to remain free on bond before she's sentenced.

She walked into court Thursday wearing a beige inmate's jumpsuit and shackles around her ankles. She waved and smiled at her husband. "Very chic," her attorney, Earle Partington, joked.

Kealoha said she doesn't object to Kagiwada's withdrawal request.

U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright heard from Kagiwada and Kealoha behind closed doors Thursday before granting the request. Kagiwada will no longer represent Kealoha for other trials she faces — one for bank fraud and identity theft with her husband and another with her pain physician brother for drug-dealing charges.

Prosecutors said the Kealohas abused their positions to frame Gerard Puana to keep him from revealing fraud that paid for their lavish lifestyle. Katherine Kealoha bilked banks, relatives and children whose trusts she controlled, prosecutors said.

Seabright appointed lawyers for the Kealohas after they said they couldn't afford to pay attorneys. He said he will appoint another attorney to represent Katherine Kealoha.

There are less than 40 lawyers on a list for indigent clients in federal court in Hawaii, and some already represent the Kealohas' co-defendants or have represented witnesses involved in the case. Those lawyers agree to accept fees from the government that are less than what they could charge.

Toward the end of the trial focusing on allegations the Kealohas conspired to frame Puana for stealing their home mailbox, Partington stepped in as an additional attorney to represent Katherine Kealoha with Kagiwada.

Trial transcripts will "show numerous instances of inexperienced court-appointed counsel's inability to cross examine witnesses, to impeach them with inconsistent statements, and to introduce important evidence which would have materially assisted the defense," Partington's motion said of Kagiwada.

Partington said Kealoha's mother was paying his legal fees, but only up to sentencing for the mailbox conspiracy case. "The family has no more money," he said.

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