AP wants Awana’s e-blackmail
A judge might release messages that brought an official's resignation
The public will never know the contents of e-mails that led to the resignation of Bob Awana, Gov. Linda Lingle's former chief of staff, if a federal judge declines to lift his gag order on attorneys in a criminal case.
The Associated Press is asking a federal judge to lift a court order prohibiting the U.S. attorney and federal public defender from disclosing the contents of the e-mails.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright is allowing the AP to submit arguments supporting its request, but he said, "I see no obvious reason to set aside the stipulation for the protective order."
Even if the order is lifted, Seabright said there is nothing compelling the U.S. attorney and federal public defender to disclose the contents of the e-mails.
The U.S. Attorney's and Federal Public Defender's offices will have until Jan. 4 to respond to the AP's arguments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Connors said the government will not disclose the e-mails because it is obligated by law to treat victims with fairness and with respect to their dignity and privacy.
"We are bound by the victim witness act," she said. "The defense is not."
Assistant Public Defender Pamela Byrne said that until further order of the court, she cannot disclose the e-mails. She would not say whether she would disclose them if Seabright lifts the order.
The e-mails are between Awana and a woman in the Philippines.
Radjatta Patkar, a computer consultant who was working in Japan, intercepted the e-mails and used them to extort money from Awana. Instead of paying Patkar with his own money, Awana contacted the FBI, which conducted a sting operation to catch Patkar.
Patkar, 44, pleaded guilty in July and is awaiting deportation to his native India.
Awana resigned as Lingle's chief of staff two weeks before.
Following Patkar's arrest in Japan and deportation to Hawaii, the federal public defender asked the U.S. attorney for copies of the e-mails, which the FBI had obtained in its investigation, so it could prepare Patkar's legal defense.
Both parties agreed not to reveal the contents of the e-mails until trial. They also sought and received an order from a federal magistrate judge reflecting their agreement. The order also directed the court clerk to file the agreement and order under seal.
Neither side introduced the e-mails into the court record as evidence because there was no trial.
After Seabright sentenced Patkar in October to what amounted to a one-month prison term, the AP asked him to lift the order regarding the disclosure of the e-mails.
Neither side objected to unsealing their agreement and order. And the U.S. Attorney said it will not object to lifting the order as long as the public defender voluntarily returns the e-mails.
Byrne said she will not return the e-mails.