Judge dismisses case against City Council
A challenge to the Honolulu City Council's behind-the-scenes July decision-making was dropped yesterday by a state judge.
But Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo will consider the broader question of whether state open-meeting laws are violated if Council members use private, one-on-one conversations to reach a consensus before an issue comes to public meeting. The question was raised in an October lawsuit filed by eight journalism and open-government organizations.
Hifo agreed in part with Deputy Corporation Counsel Don Kitaoka's motion to dismiss the suit. She said the request to overturn the reorganization of City Council leadership was "moot" because the Council later changed its rules to empower the chairman to appoint committee members without a public meeting, an action that preceded the suit.
"They admitted breaking the law in place by changing the law," said Jeff Portnoy, attorney for the plaintiffs, which include the Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii. "It's like a bank robber who brought the money back."
The suit cites other Council attempts to exempt itself from the Sunshine Law, including an opinion from the Office of Council Services that private communications on Council issues are not always prohibited by the state law. The Council has proposed that the Hawaii State Association of Counties offer a bill to exempt County Councils from the state Sunshine Law.
Kitaoka argued that there is nothing factual, no specific incident, on which the court can rule.
Hifo disagreed. She ruled, "The remainder of the complaint is not moot. There is perceived to be a point of view that each and every form of (Council) business can allow one-on-one serial communication."
Portnoy said the plaintiffs are satisfied with the split ruling. The judge will hear their motion calling for a summary judgment in January.