Blackmail case to stay under gag
A federal judge has ruled against the Associated Press in its effort to remove a gag order on e-mails in which Gov. Linda Lingle's former chief of staff was blackmailed over his relationship with a woman in the Philippines.
U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright said Bob Awana has a right to privacy because he was the victim of the blackmail.
"The public interest lies in treating a crime victim with fairness and with respect to privacy," Seabright wrote in his order, dated Monday.
Awana was Lingle's top adviser before his abrupt June 28 resignation when the case came to light.
He has not been charged with a crime, but public defender Pamela Byrne has said he arranged for women in the Philippines to go on dates with him and businessmen from Hawaii in exchange for favors including money and trips.
Rajdatta Patkar, an Indian national who had been living in Tokyo, pleaded guilty to the extortion, and officials said he has left the United States after completing his one-year sentence with credit for time served.
The AP had asked Seabright to remove a gag order on the e-mails to help verify whether the case involved official government misconduct on state trips to the Philippines in 2005 or 2006.
Seabright said previously in court that he had not seen the e-mails himself, and they were not part of the public record because the case didn't go to trial.
"The charges involve extortion over R.A.'s relationship to one or more women in the Philippines; they do not involve allegations of wrongdoing by R.A. in any manner," Seabright wrote, referring to Awana by his initials.
Without access to the e-mails at the center of the case, the public might never know whether Awana was working in his capacity as a taxpayer-paid government employee during his affairs in the Philippines, said attorney Jeff Portnoy, whose firm handled the AP's legal action.
"The fact that Bob Awana resigned seems to indicate that there may be more fire where there's smoke," Portnoy said. "What type of conduct was Bob Awana engaging in that led to the alleged extortion attempt?"
Attorneys involved in the case originally agreed July 3 to the gag order covering the e-mails and other discovery materials "until further order of the court." The AP sought to have the gag removed now that the case is closed.
Lingle, a Republican, has said Awana's actions in the Philippines were a personal matter that had nothing to do with his official state trips there.
She also has denied published reports of an investigation into Awana's conduct. Awana, who also had been Lingle's campaign manager in the past three elections, abruptly left office without making any public statement.
Patkar agreed to cooperate with federal investigators' ongoing investigations as part of his plea deal, Byrne has said. The contents of those investigations hasn't been revealed.
Neither Byrne nor federal prosecutor Clare Connors immediately returned phone calls seeking comment yesterday.
In another case involving Awana, he has acknowledged being questioned by federal agents in 2006 about a government contract awarded six years ago in the U.S. territory of Saipan.
He denied accusations of bribing Saipan officials to secure a waste management contract worth more than $1 million to run a landfill from 2002 to 2007.