Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano’s defamation lawsuit against the Pacific Resource Partnership and its affiliates could be headed to federal court.

On Monday, an attorney representing PRP trustees filed a motion to move the case out of state Circuit Court because it involves federal labor laws.

Cayetano has alleged that PRP’s political action committee spread false information about him during its nearly $3 million campaign to keep him out of the Honolulu Mayor’s Office and keep the city’s $5.26 billion rail project on track.

PRP is a partnership between local contractors and the Hawaii Carpenters Union, which is the state’s largest with 6,700 members. The group’s PAC was funded solely by Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund.

Cayetano’s lawsuit targets this fund, its trustees and the unnamed contractors who put money into it, saying they could also be liable for PRP’s controversial messaging during the mayor’s race.

Because of this, PRP’s motion states that Cayetano’s lawsuit is “inextricably intertwined” with the terms of labor contracts that are governed by federal law.

This motion is the first response from PRP or its attorneys to Cayetano’s defamation suit. Prior to its filing, the group has been silent.

PRP came under a lot of scrutiny during the election season. Most of this was due to the tactics PRP used, including negative campaigning, unending streams of attack ads and a grassroots effort bolstered by dozens of paid canvassers.

On Wednesday, Cayetano told Civil Beat that his attorneys will consider fighting the recent motion, although he noted that it might be in his interests to have his case heard in a higher court.

“We see this case as a way to draw the line between Citizens United and the common law of defamation,” Cayetano said. “I’d like to see this case become more than just about my reputation. I would like to see it become (one in which) parameters are set by the high court that others can follow in the future.”

That high court, he said, could be the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals or even the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cayetano is well aware of the possible implications of his case. While it’s difficult for a public figure to prove defamation, the fact that a candidate is going after a third-party group is somewhat novel.

Depending on the outcome, it could embolden other candidates to go after other groups like PRP that have been allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

Read the motion to move the case to federal court here:

PRP also included exhibits with the motion including the Hawaii Carpenters Union labor agreement as well as the agreement that created the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund.

Here’s the carpenters labor agreement:

Here’s the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recover Program Fund agreement:

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