HONOLULU, Hawaii – Disgraced former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha has lost another major courtroom battle.
A state judge ruled Friday that a 2015 civil verdict ordering Kealoha’s relatives to pay her $658,000 was tainted by fraud.
“Here, the plaintiffs have presented evidence that has been clear and convincing that there have been misrepresentations and fraud,” said Circuit Judge James McWhinnie. “It is especially egregious that the defendant Katherine Kealoha was an officer of the court.”
Gerard Puana, who was in court Friday, celebrated the ruling.
“This is a big deal. It’s a big weight off of my back and off our family’s back. We all know what went on in this civil trial and it shouldn’t have happened,” he said.
The ruling does not immediately overturn the 2015 verdict
Puana’s attorneys must now ask an appellate court to order a new trial.
Attorneys for Florence Puana, Katherine Kealoha’s elderly grandmother, filed a motion last month asking for a new civil trial against Kealoha, who was convicted earlier this year in a massive public corruption trial.
In 2015, the Puanas had accused Kealoha of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from them, but a state court famously ruled in favor of Kealoha in the case and awarded her $658,000.
In their motion for a new civil trial, lawyers for the Puana family claimed that Kealoha was found guilty in the federal public corruption case because she committed fraud in state court in order to win the civil trial.
Federal prosecutors said Kealoha lied on the stand and used forged documents notarized by a fictitious person named Alison Lee Wong to win the case, and lawyers for the Puana family used evidence from the federal case their motion requesting a new trial.
Kealoha’s lawyer says the Puana’s should have raised these challenges years ago.
“Whether or not a witness lied on the stand is something that happens on a daily basis in trial. And if that is to have been found to have occurred in the case, you have one year within to raise that,” said Kealoha’s attorney Kevin Sumida.
Normally, the statute of limitation for legal challenges like this is one year. But because the court was victim, the judge ruled that there is no limit.
Florence Puana has already paid some of the damages. To get the money back, she’s going after Kealoha’s attorneys and the city.
How much time will the Kealohas spend in prison? It depends
Former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha has already spent 45 days behind bars. That time that will be credited once she is sentenced for obstruction and conspiracy on Oct. 7. Kealoha was ordered detained and legal experts believe that’s a sign the judge sees her as the ringleader of the public corruption scandal.
Still, it’s difficult to determine exactly how much time she and her husband, ex-Police Chief Louis Kealoha, and two other police officers will serve for framing an innocent man for a mailbox theft.
The federal sentencing guidelines is based on a points system. The more points you have, the longer your sentence. And the judge has discretion.
Obstruction starts with 14 points. That equates to a sentence of 15-21 months. But the long list of enhancements could mean more than five times that number. If the judge finds there was substantial interference in the administration of justice that adds three points.
Kealoha will likely be seen as having what’s called an aggravating role, as the organizer of the conspiracy. That tacks on another four points.
Abuse of position ― because she was a high ranking deputy prosecutor and the rest are police officers ― also adds two points.
Other increases the judge will consider include a vulnerable victim, because one of the victims was Katherine Kealoha’s elderly grandmother.
Add perjury and other bad behavior to the list and legal experts believe Katherine could serve about a decade behind bars.
“She’s going to be Aunty Kathy in the federal system for a long time,” legal expert Michael Green said. He believes Louis Kealoha could get slightly less, but will still see significant time in prison. “You don’t get a reduction for being stupid,” Green says. “Louis, don’t make any plans for a few years.”
In the federal system, accepting responsibility for your crimes helps.
None of the defendants did; they all went to trial.
“Some cases are really easy to figure out, this is a lot harder because of all the issues of all these special enhancements, the points that keep adding up,” said Alexander Silvert, of the federal public defender’s office.
Even with all the calculations, Silvert says U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright could add even more. “Judge Seabright can decide to upwardly depart and give a worse sentence than the guidelines call for,” he said.
HPD Officer Bobby Nguyen and Lieutenant Derek Hahn are expected to get less time than the Kealohas but they’ll still get several years in prison, according to both Silver and Green.