Child endangering case files to stay sealed
Human Services will try to release records relating to the incident
Child Welfare Service records in a 2000 case involving a 12-year-old malnourished girl found unconscious in her family's Makiki apartment early this year will remain sealed, state Department of Human Services officials said.
Director Lillian Koller said last week the department would be releasing files in the case involving the then-5-year-old daughter of Denise and Melvin Wright Jr. Documents in the case, including police reports, reports by social workers and photos would have been posted online on the department's Web site.
"We received an order from Family Court that we would be in violation if we posted the records at this time, and we are complying," department spokesman Derick Dahilig said yesterday.
The order does not mean the files will never be opened, he said. "We're working with them to get the records released."
This would not have been the first time that Child Welfare Service records in an abused- or missing-child case were made public or posted online. The department, under Koller, made available voluminous documents in the case of missing Big Island 6-year-old "Peter Boy" Kema Jr. on its Web site in 2005.
In the Wright case, the girl's parents are awaiting trial after authorities found the girl on Jan. 7 weighing about 35 to 40 pounds, almost half of what a normal 11-year-old would weigh.
Prosecutors said the girl had not seen a doctor since she was 10 months old, was not attending school and never saw a dentist. The Wrights moved to Hawaii from Charleston, S.C., in February 1995.
The parents were indicted on charges of second-degree attempted murder and await trial the week of Sept. 10.
In the 2000 case, both parents pleaded no contest to endangering the welfare of a minor.
Circuit Judge Patrick W. Border, who was to preside over the case, recused himself yesterday at the request of defense attorneys and transferred the matter to Judge Rhonda Nishimura. Border's law clerk is the son of the deputy prosecutor handling the case.
Border said his law clerk serves in an "advisory and ministerial role" -- as a bailiff and liaison between the jury and the court -- and is tasked with duties that include typing up jury instructions.
Although he found that there was "no impropriety in my serving as a judge in this case," Border, "in an abundance of caution," recused himself anyway, saying he must consider the appearance of impropriety.
Lane Takahashi, attorney for Melvin Wright Jr., said it was "a no-brainer" that the judge recuse himself from a case where a member of his staff is related to the prosecutor. "You don't get that often," he said. Deputy public defender Debra Loy, who represents Denise Wright, declined comment.
Motions filed by the defense to prohibit the prosecutor or anyone associated with the case from releasing any more details or talking about the case will be heard by Nishimura.