Reopening of lawsuit records is sought
The request to the state Supreme Court concerns a Hilo case
HILO » News media attorney Jeffrey Portnoy asked the state Supreme Court yesterday to order a lower court to reopen an active legal case that has been closed to public view.
The case deals with a malpractice lawsuit filed by George Miyashiro in Hilo Circuit Court against Hilo attorney Stanley Roehrig, but that was known only because of a leak to news media, said Portnoy, who represents West Hawaii Today and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.
"This is a blatant violation of the state Constitution and the United States Constitution," he said. "This is virtually unheard of in the United States."
Defendant Roehrig issued a statement saying he was in complete agreement with the news media's desire to have the files made public. The files and court proceedings will show that he and his law firm did nothing wrong, he said.
Roehrig's attorney, Brian De Lima, said the action by Circuit Judge George Masuoka of Kauai in sealing the case was extremely rare. But the action was taken by agreement of all the parties and was supposed to last only briefly, De Lima said. Instead, the secrecy has dragged on since April.
Masuoka took over the case after judges on the Big Island recused themselves because one of Roehrig's partners, Glen Hara, became a Circuit Court judge.
The secrecy arose because Miyashiro's case against Roehrig makes use of documents from another lawsuit involving Jack's Tours against Miyashiro. That case was settled, but it too was permanently sealed.
Roehrig represented Miyashiro in the Jack's Tours case.
Roehrig had argued that he could not defend himself if he did not have documents from the prior case. The intended short period of secrecy in the present case was supposed to give lawyers time to sort out what documents can be used.