Jury selection began Monday in a closely watched corruption scandal involving the highest levels of Honolulu law enforcement. But instead of a courtroom, prospective jurors were summoned to a venue that usually hosts concerts, expos and other large events.
Because of the intense publicity surrounding the case, 400 prospective jurors are needed for the initial phase of jury selection Monday.
The judge was concerned the U.S. courthouse in downtown Honolulu wouldn’t be able to accommodate that many people, so he reserved a room at the Neal Blaisdell Center a few miles away.
Long lines are the norm there for concerts. City officials warned of possible increased traffic in the area on Monday morning because of the unusual court venue.
The closely watched scandal stars now-retired Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine Kealoha, a former city prosecutor. The couple and current and former officers are accused of abusing police resources to frame a Kealoha relative for a crime.
Prosecutors say the Kealohas framed Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for stealing their home mailbox in an attempt to cover up financial fraud that supported their lavish lifestyle.
Hundreds of prospective jurors are necessary in a case that attracted intense publicity.
“Other than the different location, the court will conduct business at this session identically to a session at the court’s normal courtroom and in accordance with the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial,” U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright said in a March order designating the center as the venue for initial jury selection.
The center is comprised of an arena, a concert hall and an exhibition hall. Prospective jurors — 413 of them — gathered in the Pikake Room. It was most recently the venue for Royal Hawaiian Band auditions, said Andrew Pereira, a Honolulu spokesman.
The defendants and their lawyers sat at tables in front of the room while Seabright addressed the crowd from a podium on a stage.
“I can see you are all packed in pretty tightly,” he said, explaining that they wouldn’t have been able to fit in a normal courtroom. It’s the most he’s had for a case, he said.
The would-be jurors filled out a questionnaire they were told would take less than an hour to complete. “Have you ever had mail stolen from your mailbox,” was one of the questions. They were given a list of potential witnesses and others involved in the case. If they know of any them personally, they had to write down a brief explanation of how they know them.
Court officials will spend the next few days reviewing the questionnaires. A vastly reduced pool of prospective jurors will be called back at a later date to continue the process at the federal courthouse. Twelve jurors and four alternates will ultimately be selected.
Opening statements are expected May 22 or 23, Seabright said.