The Sunshine Blog: Secrecy Gone Awry And A Distinctive Aloha Shirt - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair, John Hill and Richard Wiens.

Short takes, outtakes, our takes and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

Another case of not-so-redacted redactions: Last week Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez’s office sent out a press release announcing the state had sued “the Big Three” companies that manage prescription drug benefits for hundreds of thousands of Hawaii residents — CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx.

In a nutshell, the AG believes the companies have been engaging in pay-to-play schemes with drug manufacturers that have caused consumer prices to skyrocket. You can read all about the specific allegations in this press release.

But what caught The Sunshine Blog’s eye was a link to what the AG described as “a partially redacted complaint.” As you know by now, The Blog hates government cover-up on any level and it struck us as very questionable that a lawsuit complaint which is supposed to lay out the case against the party being sued was blacked out in many sections.

And they were, of course, the most interesting sections. Just when you thought you were going to find out what actually happened, for instance, in 2016 with the price of insulin, you run into the big black box.

Screenshot/Attorney General filing


But not to worry. The Blog has you covered on this one.

As happens more frequently than Blog Fans realize, whoever filed the redacted complaint messed up the redacting part of things. As every good reporter knows all you need to do is copy and paste a badly redacted document into a blank Word document (we do it routinely) and voila:

(Screenshot/The Sunshine Blog)

That’s just one example. We have the whole 46-page complaint in a nice safely saved Word document.

But while Your Sunshine Bloggers have simply been shaking their collective heads in a bemused way over this, others have been working on the people’s behalf to legally challenge the redacted complaint as a violation of the First Amendment and the public’s constitutional right to public access.

After the complaint was filed and the press release blasted out, the AG’s office filed a motion to file an unredacted complaint under seal. This is because sealing a public record like a court complaint is frowned upon (see: public’s right to know) and attorneys need permission from a judge to do that.

The state says in essence that the redacted sections contain information attorneys collected in building their case against the pharmacy companies and that it might include, uh oh, trade secrets and such.

That caught the attention of Brian Black at the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest who follows these things very closely. He filed a legal argument opposing the sealing.

“Once the State alleges that corporate entities have engaged in unfair and deceptive practices against the people of Hawai`i, the State cannot hide the basis for its claims absent compelling reasons,” Black wrote.

“The Defendants are identified as pharmacy benefit managers, but any information that would show that Defendants engaged in unfair and deceptive practices has been redacted. Whether the State has flimsy grounds to connect Defendants to the ills of pharmacy benefit managers generally or whether the allegations raise serious questions about Defendants’ specific conduct, the public should have access to assess the information to better understand and be able to discuss why the State has invoked the jurisdiction of this Court on behalf of the people of Hawai`i.”

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And besides, Black points out in a footnote at the end of his legal brief, the information the state is trying to keep secret is already public.

“The motion to seal also should be denied because the redacted complaint is not properly redacted; the State simply placed black boxes over the text. As a consequence, the information is readily recoverable and thus already in the public domain.”

Your Bloggers certainly can relate to that. We’re hoping the court quickly rejects the state’s motion and orders the AG to file a new, unredacted complaint. If not, we’ll just post our somewhat messy copy here.

Showing his aloha: The Sunshine Blog has been wondering what message Maui Mayor Richard Bissen was trying to send when, at a press conference back in August attended by all sorts of pesky local and national reporters asking tough questions, the mayor appeared in an aloha shirt with the word “kūʻē” written all over it in giant letters.

Kūʻē can mean a lot of things including to opposeresistprotest but also oppositeversusadversecontrary and unwilling.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen speaks at a press conference Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Wailuku. The gathering was to share information on those missing and the process to identify remains found in the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen at a press conference Aug. 22 in Wailuku where he when he answered questions on the status of missing persons from the fires. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Bissen has been under fire for his refusal to answer questions about many things involving the Aug. 8 fires in Lahaina including emergency management operations and his own whereabouts as Lahaina was burning. (Bissen did finally tell reporters last week that he was at the emergency operations center during the evening of Aug. 8, leaving around 3 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 9.) Public records requests from many news organizations including Civil Beat to the county are going unanswered.

So The Blog wondered if the mayor’s particular choice of shirts might be, well, a big middle finger to anyone who raises questions about the county or himself.

Maui County Communications Director Mahina Martin tells The Blog: “We get an unusual amount of comments on the mayor’s shirts.”

“Only in Hawaii!” she added.

She says the mayor does not wear shirts to send messages — with one exception. And that was on the first day of school when Maui High School welcomed students from Lahainaluna High School to their campus. In solidarity with Lahainaluna, Bissen wore a red aloha shirt.

GoFundWho?: We’re all asking the same question: Where’s the half a billion dollars that has been poured into Maui?

Hundreds of funds, grants, nonprofits and GoFundMe pages have popped up but fire victims continue to report aid gaps — and people are rightly concerned about where that money is going.

Case in point: Civil Beat learned from an online petition that Maui Memorial Emergent Medical Associates had donated half the proceeds from its $44,000 GoFundMe to staff who lost their homes. But the other half was redirected for payroll even though the campaign never mentioned that.

Employees raised a stink and the company’s president admonished them for not trusting leadership more. But after reporter Allan Kew started asking around, the decision was quickly reversed and all the funds were donated to survivors. So they say.

It’s become clear how squishy the rules are with how fundraisers are worded and how relief aid is defined or provided. These days it seems like anyone can start a Maui relief fund — and no one’s checking to make sure the money ends up where it belongs.

Fundraising pitch: Speaking of people who have been raising a heck of a lot of money, an emotional Tiare Lawrence from Lahaina was on “The Jennifer Hudson Show” last week. The community organizer recalled the terror of the Aug. 8 fires and her difficulties in finding her brother that day.

Lawrence told Hudson that she and others have worked to raise over $2.6 million for wildfire victims. She also talked about her work with Oprah Winfrey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to raise even more.

Lawrence asked viewers to send aloha to Maui and to visit, but also to be mindful that the community is still healing and grieving. Hudson ended the segment by telling Lawrence that she was donating $10,000 to the People’s Fund of Maui, that’s Oprah and The Rock’s charity.

“Aloha,” Hudson concluded. “We’ll be right back.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

Read this next:

Cynthia Thielen: Hawaii’s ‘Eisenhower Republican’ On Ethics, Polarization And Dianne Feinstein

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair, John Hill and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

I attended the DOBOR Mala Wharf Zoom meeting last Tuesday. One of the excuses for not opening the ramp was that they do not know if the water is safe. I asked via the chat if water testing had been done and if the results were available to the public. The non-answer I got via chat was "to be determined" . This triggered my attention to all the news articles where the govt is careful to use the terms like "might" , "could" , "may" be toxic or contaminated when giving excuses why the water in Kula is still "unsafe" or access is denied to areas of Lahaina. My gut tells me they are not publishing the results because it would discredit their narrative and remove their reason for not moving forward.

mechols3 · 1 month ago

Excellent article, and mahalo for pursuing so many issues always.You would think the AG would have learn about redaction after the last time you did this. It's really simple to avoid it. Print the "redacted" version, and scan it. Boom--no can unredact it now. Ya'd think people with law degrees would know that?Bissen has told so many stories about where he was on the 8th that I don't believe any of them. Not one. First he refused to answer, then claimed he was in his office, then no answer, then multiple places, then at the EOC..........I'm not buying any of it. He is a total failure and didn't even come to the West side for over a week. His choice of that shirt was no doubt deliberate, and also a slap to all of us who still live on the West side. His and the Council's pandering to the small minority is punishing us more, every time they open their mouths or publish another "plan".

MauiLolo · 1 month ago

Secrecy is the American way but I just love the shirt, it's loud & clear...if Americans value freedom, then they would grant Hawaiian independence!

AHawaiianMan · 1 month ago

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