A Hawaii Circuit Court judge ruled Friday that the city must turn over documents to Civil Beat related to embattled deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha’s employment with the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s office.
Civil Beat had requested the documents in April through the state’s public records law, the Uniform Information Practices Act.
Among the items Civil Beat sought were Kealoha’s resume and work history within the prosecutor’s office, as well as any letters of commendation or discipline.
Such documents are widely considered to be public records under Hawaii law. But last month Kealoha filed a lawsuit to prevent the city from releasing the documents to Civil Beat. She is under federal investigation for alleged public corruption, along with her husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.
Her attorney, Kevin Sumida, said that providing such documents — which included her resume, cover letter and details about her vacation benefits and sick leave — would be a violation of her constitutional right to privacy.
On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Dean Ochiai found that Sumida’s argument didn’t pass legal muster and told the city to provide the documents to Civil Beat immediately.
The documents did not contain records of any disciplinary action taken against Kealoha.
Both Civil Beat and the city had argued before Ochiai that the records sought were clearly considered public documents.
In fact, the city had already told Civil Beat in May that it intended to provide the documents with personal information, such as Kealoha’s social security number, redacted.
Deputy Corporation Counsel Duane Pang reiterated this point during Friday’s hearing, noting that it’s common practice for city officials to provide such information to the public and the press.
“We were ready to turn these documents over until we got a phone call from Mr. Sumida,” Pang said.
Civil Beat’s attorney, Paul Alston, of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, piggybacked on Pang’s argument, saying Kealoha’s challenge to the release of the documents had caused unnecessary delay for Civil Beat. He also described Sumida’s blanket privacy argument as “ham-handed.”
“The city and Civil Beat have been at this dance for a long time,” Alston said, referring to the back and forth between news agencies and the government over public records.
“The city knows the rules. Civil Beat knows the rules. Unfortunately, Ms. Kealoha does not.”
Sumida declined to comment on Friday’s ruling.
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