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Spring 2006

June 2006

President's Message
This Year's Education Bills (Mary Anne Raywid)
Affordable Shelter (Jackie Parnell)
New LWV State Website (Andrea Dean)
2006 Freedom of Information Compliance Audit (Jackie Parnell)
League Makes it to the Wheel (Jean Aoki)
Voter Owned Elections (Clean Elections) (Kory Payne)
Education Committee Report (and why political reform...) (Mary Anne Raywid)
Never Say it Makes No Difference (Jean Aoki)
Court Rules Private Serial Communications Violate State's Sunshine Law
Martha Black Dies
Gambling: Hopefully a Non-Issue This Legislative Session (Judy Rantala)
Century of Accountability (Mary Anne Raywid)
Prophecy Gone Wrong (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
Chapter Reports: Kauai (Carol Bain)
Chapter Reports: Honolulu (Jackie Parnell)
Chapter Reports: Hawaii (Marianna Scheffer)
Chapter Reports: Maui (Joshua Cooper)

Court Rules Private Serial Communications Violate State's Sunshine Law

A lawsuit initiated by open government groups has succeeded in stopping the Honolulu City Council from holding secret one-on-one meetings on Council business. Last week, Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled that the City Council's practice of allowing "Council members to meet in a series of one-on-one discussions on...Council business is contrary to the letter, intent, and spirit of the Sunshine Law." In August 2005 the Office of Information Practices issued an opinion that the series of secret meetings, limited to two City Council members each, to discuss and reach agreement on Resolution No. 05243 violated the state Sunshine Law. Council leaders had indicated they would disregard the OIP opinion and continue its practice of conducting serial private meetings. Open government groups are opposed to the City Council's secret meetings because if allowed, the Sunshine Law and public's right to know would be undermined. Because OIP has no authority to enforce its opinions, the open government groups felt compelled to file the lawsuit to enforce the OIP opinion. Legislation to authorize OIP to enforce the Sunshine Law is currently pending at the legislature. The plaintiffs who filed the suit include the Right to Know Committee, the League of Women Voters of Hawai'i, Citizen Voice, Hawai'i Pro-Democracy Initiative, Big Island Press Club, Society of Professional Journalists - Hawai'i Chapter, SPJ University of Hawai'i Chapter, and Honolulu Community-Media Council. Attorneys Jeffrey Portnoy and Elijah Yip of the Cades Schutte LLP law firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in the circuit court of the First Judicial Circuit.

Speaking for the plaintiffs group, Stirling Morita, Freedom of Information Committee chair for the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said "We hope this will clarify the law to various boards that the public's business should be done in public and not in some back room through one-on-one communications done in a serial manner."

"This successful lawsuit signals the increasing and legitimate demand that Hawai'i's state and local government officials fulfill their obligation to conduct the public's business in the open," said journalism educator Beverly Keever, Right To Know Chair. "This suit was brought by citizens and organizations devoted to protecting the people's right to know and it succeeded with the generous assistance of one of Honolulu's premier law firms. Government bodies should not waste taxpayer dollars by fighting or undercutting each other and contesting the legal expertise of OIP with its statutory mandate to help citizens and advise Hawai'i's officials at the state and local levels about open government."

Sue Irvine, president of the League of Women Voters of Hawai'i, said, "Since our founding the year after women were allowed to vote, the LWV has been promoting active citizen participation in government. This is only possible when citizens are informed of when and where government officials meet, so we are delighted with this ruling which ensures that the public will not be excluded from City Council deliberations."

Jeffrey Portnoy, said "This decision by Judge Hifo will hopefully clear up any ambiguity regarding the legal requirements of conducting the public's business in public and is a significant victory for the people of this State and County who believe in open government".

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