Scarlet Honolulu and Gay Island Guide cited an alleged death threat in requesting a temporary restraining order. The commission’s counsel denied the allegation.

The Honolulu Liquor Commission is being accused of issuing a death threat against Robert Sobieralski, a witness in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the commission.

The lawsuit was filed in fall of 2021 by the LGBTQ+ newsletter Gay Island Guide and the LGBTQ+ bar Scarlet Honolulu, owned by Robert Baldwin. Sobieralski, Baldwin’s longtime partner, has made hundreds of public records requests to the commission since then.

In late October, the phrase “Rob is dead” was scrawled onto the outside of a building that Sobieralski often walks past to pick up these public records, according to Scarlet’s lawyer.

Scarlet’s lawyer James DiPasquale alleges that phrase, coupled with past complaints, could be read as a credible threat. He filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Thursday, calling for a stoppage of “all forms of witness intimidation, harassment and threats.”

In an emailed statement, Counsel for Honolulu Liquor Commission Lex Smith denied the allegation.

Scarlet Honolulu owner Robbie Baldwin.
Scarlet Honolulu owner Robert Baldwin sued the Honolulu Liquor Commission and several of its employees in 2021, alleging that the commission’s enforcement was unfair and discriminatory. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

“There is no evidence contained in the motion for a temporary restraining order that shows the graffiti at issue references the plaintiffs, witnesses, or anyone connected to this case. There also is no evidence whatsoever connecting the Honolulu Liquor Commission to the graffiti,” Smith said.

The motion pointed to past intimidation tactics and knowledge among commission investigators of where Sobieralski lives as heightening the threat.

Late last year, one investigator, Catherine Fontaine, obtained a temporary restraining order against Sobieralski, claiming that his stream of records requests along with sending information about her to the commission and the City Council constituted harassment. 

Sobieralski saw this as an attempt to make it physically harder for him to pick up public records from Fontaine’s office, and the temporary restraining order was dismissed in April.

Current investigator Jhumar Ray Waite submitted a declaration in Thursday’s motion about his experience working for the commission.

Other investigators on patrol would slow down their cars in front of a building, he wrote, gesturing to it and telling Waite and other investigators that’s where Sobieralski and Baldwin live.

“The repeated nature of these incidents and the context in which they were made led me to feel unsettled,” he wrote.

Sobieralski had requested public documents in mid- to late-October from the commission. Not long after, Scarlet co-owner Joseph Luna walked by the spot and saw the alleged death threat to Sobieralski.

“Stricken with panic, I immediately reached out to Robert Baldwin, Rob Sobieralski, and the Honolulu Police Department for assistance,” he wrote in a declaration included in the motion.

Over the phone, DiPasquale explained that the motion for a temporary restraining order is meant to call attention to what his clients see as pretrial intimidation of witnesses and employees and owners of Scarlet, a plaintiff in the larger federal lawsuit

“We’re basically saying, ‘we’re placing you on notice, that, if someone dies, if someone gets hurt, if you engage in any more tactics – this could get worse.’ It’s basically a very public statement that says this is a problem, and this needs to stop,” he said.

Trial in the federal case is scheduled for 2024.

Read the motion here:

Help Power Local, Nonprofit News.

Across the nation and in Hawaii, news organizations are downsizing and closing their doors due to the ever-rising costs of keeping local journalism alive and well.

While Civil Beat has grown year over year, still only 1% of our readers are donors, and we need your help now more than ever.

Make a gift today of any amount, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $20,500, thanks to a generous group of Civil Beat donors.

About the Author