Hawaii Supreme Court Ruling Raises Questions About Taxpayer-Funded Legal Representation for Police Officers

Attorneys see an opportunity in a recent Hawaii Supreme Court decision.

Written by: Jack Truesdale

From: Honolulu Civil Beat

Hawaii Supreme Court Draws A Fine Line

The highest court in the state recently drew a fine line between what police misconduct deserved taxpayer-funded legal representation and what did not.

The Hawaii Supreme Court decided March 7 that the Honolulu Police Commission erred in 2019 when it decided to provide former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha with taxpayer-funded legal representation after his federal indictment.

“Kealoha’s duties did not include overseeing a criminal conspiracy to hide his and his wife’s misappropriation of funds belonging to others,” Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna wrote. “His duties did not include conspiring to frame his wife’s uncle for a crime he did not commit.”

McKenna called Kealoha’s criminal charges “extraordinary” and his request to the City and County of Honolulu for representation “highly unusual.”

But the ruling’s impact on officers facing more ordinary misconduct charges is yet to be determined.

Even if officers exceed their duty by using “unreasonable force or driving at excessive speeds” to arrest someone, McKenna wrote, “representation should be available because the officer was initially acting to perform the officer’s duty as a police officer.”

The law in question, 52D-8 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes, provides for the legal representation of police officers prosecuted for a crime or sued in a civil case “for acts done in the performance of the officer’s duty as a police officer.”

Implications of the Hawaii Supreme Court Ruling

the Supreme Court ruling potentially has implications for cases elsewhere in the state.

Two years ago, after shopping with his wife at a Kahului mall, Tivoli Faaumu, then the Maui police chief, backed his police-subsidized Ford pickup truck into someone’s parked Harley Davidson and drove off. An anonymous “Johnny Wishbone” posted security camera footage of the incident on YouTube on Nov. 18, 2020, almost two weeks later.

A week after, two officers in the chief’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, Masa Kaya and Martin Marfil, kidnapped and interrogated Manuel Sorcy, the officer who investigated the hit-and-run, about whether he released the video, court documents allege.

By the time Sorcy sued Kaya, Marfil and Faaumu last November, the chief had already resigned.

Still, the three requested that Maui County provide them with legal representation, and the Maui Police Commission granted it Feb. 1, with seven yes votes and two commissioners excused. (The commission will vote again Wednesday because of a procedural error, according to Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Michael Hopper.)

Sorcy’s attorney, Joseph Rosenbaum, said the two MPD officers he’s suing qualify for the county-funded legal representation.

“I think that they were acting within the scope of their duties as a police officer,” Rosenbaum said. “They were directed to do the interrogation by the police chief, but I do believe it was criminal and illegal without question.”


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