State Supreme CourtBy Debra Barayuga
denies access to family
court files in Kema case
Closed family court files relating to missing Big Island child "Peter Boy" Kema Jr. will not be open to the media, the Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled.
The high court's opinion, however, doesn't rule out the possibility that information could be released in future cases, one media official said.
In a decision handed down yesterday, the high court struck down Big Island Family Court Judge Ben Gaddis' order of June 17, 1998, granting access to additional family court records requested by the Honolulu Advertiser. The ruling denies the release of the files.
The files were being withheld while Peter Kema Sr., the boy's father, appealed the decision.
In its 13-page opinion, the high court said Peter Boy's case was so "intertwined" with those of his siblings that it would result in the release of information from the closed cases of his siblings, which was not in the children's best interests.
The Advertiser, which opposed Peter Kema Sr.'s petition to withhold the files' release, disagrees.
"We think that release of the documents would serve the public interest and is consistent with the statutes," Jim Gatti, Advertiser editor, said yesterday.
The high court, however, did support Gaddis' earlier stand on the initial release of information, Gatti said.
Gaddis, after an April 16 request by an Advertiser reporter, released limited information on Peter Jr.'s past history and the circumstances surrounding his disappearance. But he denied access to the siblings' ongoing and closed Family Court files, calling it "potentially harmful and would not be in their best interest."
The court noted at the time that releasing the information would not impede any current investigations, that it could encourage the public to come forward with information that could help authorities in its investigation and that concerns over the child's welfare outweighed confidentiality concerns expressed by family members.
The high court agreed that the court's first release of information to the media was in Peter Boy's best interest and did not infringe on his siblings' best interests.
The Advertiser had argued in a subsequent petition for access to all the confidential records of the Child Protective Services involving Peter Boy and his siblings that it had a legitimate interest in reviewing the records.
While release of further Family Court files might serve some legitimate purpose, the overriding concern of the state's child protective laws in deciding whether to release such information remains the best interest of the children, the high court wrote.
"Under the interests of the Child Protective Act, the interests of other parties or non-parties seeking information are not as compelling as the interests of the children involved," the high court said.
Seven-year-old Peter Kema Jr. disappeared during the summer of 1997 but was only reported missing by his parents last year after intense public scrutiny over their son's whereabouts.
Peter Kema Sr. told authorities that he had given the boy to a woman he identified as Auntie Rose Makuakane at Aala Park in August 1997. Police have been unable to find her or the boy.