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Oral Argument Before the Hawaii Supreme Court — No. SCAP-17-0000899

No. SCAP-17-0000899, Thursday, January 17, 2019, 10 a.m.

CIVIL BEAT LAW CENTER FOR THE PUBLIC INTEREST, INC., Petitioner/Plaintiff-Appellant, vs. CITY & COUNTY OF HONOLULU; HONOLULU POLICE COMMISSION, Respondents/Defendants-Appellees.

The above-captioned case has been set for argument on the merits at:

Supreme Court Courtroom
Aliiolani Hale, 2nd Floor
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellant:

Robert Brian Black of Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest

Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee:

Duane W. H. Pang and Jessica Y. K. Wong, Deputies Corporation Counsel

NOTE: Certificate of Recusal, by Associate Justice Paula N. Nakayama, filed 08/13/18.

NOTE: Order assigning Circuit Court Judge Todd W. Eddins, in place of Nakayama, J., recused, filed 08/21/18.

NOTE: Order granting Application for Transfer, filed 08/27/18.

COURT: Recktenwald, C.J., McKenna, Pollack, and Wilson, JJ., and Circuit Court Judge Eddins, in place of Nakayama, J., recused.

[  Listen to the entire audio recording in mp3 format  ]

Brief Description:

Plaintiff-Appellant Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, Inc. (Civil Beat) challenges the Circuit Court of the First Circuit’s order granting Defendants-Appellees City & County of Honolulu and the Honolulu Police Commission’s (Commission) (collectively, Defendant-Appellees) Motion to Dismiss Complaint and final judgment.

The issues in this case arise from three closed meetings the Commission held in January 2017 concerning then-Chief of Police Louis Kealoha, who had received notice that he was the target of a federal criminal investigation and voluntarily placed himself on leave. The Commission closed the meetings pursuant to the personnel-privacy and attorney-client exceptions to the open meeting requirement under HRS Chapter 92. At the end of the third meeting, the Commission voted to approve Kealoha’s $250,000 retirement package.

Civil Beat filed a complaint in the circuit court against the Defendant-Appellees. In Counts I and II, Civil Beat alleged that the Commission misinterpreted the Sunshine Law before voting to enter an executive session. In Counts III and IV, Civil Beat alleged that the personnel-privacy exception requires an analysis of whether private matters are involved, and balancing of privacy interests with the public interest in disclosure. In Counts V and VI, Civil Beat alleged, on information and belief, that portions of the executive sessions were not directly related to the exempt purposes identified by the Commission and thus exceeded the permissible scope of the Sunshine Law.

The Defendant-Appellees filed a Motion to Dismiss, which the circuit court granted on all counts. The court held Counts I and II were moot, that Counts III and IV must be dismissed because the Commission was not required under HRS Chapter 92 to balance privacy interests against the public interest, and that Counts V and VI must be dismissed because the pleadings set forth conclusory and speculative allegations.

Civil Beat appealed and filed an application for transfer to this court, which was accepted. Civil Beat’s appeal sets forth the following points of error:

1) Whether a complaint alleging that a government board exceeded the scope of permissible exceptions to the Sunshine Law during a closed meeting (Counts V and VI) may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a cause of action under HRS section 92-12;

2) Whether the circuit court erred in holding that the Sunshine Law personnel privacy exception broadly applies to all discussion of personnel matters concerning the chief of police regardless whether “consideration of matters affecting privacy will be involved” (Counts III and IV);

3) Whether the public is entitled to declaratory relief to prevent violations of the Sunshine Law by correcting a government board’s erroneous understanding that its vote to enter executive session was meaningless because the Sunshine Law required a closed meeting and permitted criminal prosecution of the board members for holding an open meeting (Counts I and II).