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Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Arakawa’s suit
over release of info
is dismissed

The DUI suspect's Social
Security number was
made public

By Debra Barayuga

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by retired police officer Clyde Arakawa which contended that his constitutional rights were violated when a state official released his personal information to the media, including his Social Security number and address.

U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra said yesterday that anyone who is using public roadways and is involved in an accident has no expectation that their name and address will be withheld from the public.

But while he found that Arakawa had a right to privacy concerning his Social Security number, and that it should not have been disclosed, Ezra said there wasn't a clearly established rule that barred its release by Ronald Sakata, chief adjudicator of the state's Driver's License Revocation Office.

"I'm not saying it was the smart or right thing to do -- I would have been happier if the man's Social Security number was not given out -- I think it was a misjudgment," Ezra said.

Arakawa filed the suit Nov. 21 against Sakata, who released information about Arakawa to the media upon request after the agency revoked Arakawa's driver's license for a year.

The agency based its revocation on Arakawa's refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test and because there was probable cause to believe he was driving while intoxicated on Oct. 8. That was the day his car collided with a car driven by 19-year-old Dana Ambrose, who was killed.

Ezra said that there is no statute that protects the confidentiality of Social Security numbers used on a driver's license and that Sakata was covered by "qualified immunity."

"The law is very clear -- state employees are not subject to lawsuits unless they take action that violates clearly established rights and that a reasonable official would not have done," said John Dellera, deputy attorney general.

Dellera had argued in court that in the absence of federal or state statutes prohibiting the release of Social Security numbers, "there is no legal basis for claiming a violation of federally protected rights."

Social Security numbers have been widely used on state driver's licenses for years until last year, when lawmakers amended the law to discontinue the practice because of the potential for misuse.

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to file criminal charges against Arakawa, who was arrested the day after the crash for suspicion of first-degree negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated.

Police last week turned over the results of its investigation to prosecutors. Arakawa's attorney, Michael Ostendorp, could not be reached for comment.

Ambrose's parents have filed a civil lawsuit in state court against Arakawa and two local bar-restaurants, claiming their daughter died because of their negligence.

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