Isle high court upholds
policy requiring
IDs at hearings

Critics say the ruling could dissuade
some people from attending


Friday, July 29, 2005

» A state Supreme Court decision on a challenge to the sign-in and identification policy adopted by the Administrative Driver's License Revocation Office was issued Monday. A Page A1 story yesterday incorrectly said the decision was issued on Wednesday.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at corrections@starbulletin.com.

A state or city agency concerned about security can "reasonably" control access to public hearings by requiring attendees to show a photo identification or sign a log, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.

The decision, which upheld a sign-in and identification policy adopted by the state Administrative Driver's License Revocation Office in 2001, could have wide implications for Hawaii's public agencies struggling to balance access with security in an age of heightened terrorism fears.

Critics say the ruling might deter attendance at public hearings among residents who would rather remain anonymous to government agencies.

The ruling "will have a deleterious and potentially inhibiting effect on the right to attend similar hearings freely and openly and without needless restriction," wrote Justice Simeon Acoba Jr. in a dissenting opinion.

The agency's policy, he added, "constituted an unconstitutional limitation" for a public hearing.

But the remaining four justices called the agency's security procedure "reasonably tailored to meet the security needs of ADLRO hearings."

"Furthermore, the director (of the office) satisfied the burden on establishing the reasonableness of the ADLRO sign-in and identification procedure ... (which) in no way, in and of itself, deprives parties of a public hearing," the justices wrote.

The case involved Honolulu resident Darcy Freitas, who challenged the requirements to access license revocation hearings after temporarily losing his driver's license over a drunken-driving conviction.

The office requires that attendees show a photo ID and sign a log before entering inner areas, including hearing rooms. Those who refuse are denied entry, according to court documents.

The state has argued that the revocation office's policy is far less intrusive than X-ray machines and has deterred unruly behavior in hearing rooms.

People whose identities are known, state attorneys said, are less inclined to disrupt a hearing.

But Freitas' lawyer, Earle Partington, argued the policy was unconstitutional.

He also said there was no solid evidence that the security measures worked, noting that no other public hearing process in Hawaii's judicial system uses the ID and sign-in procedure -- not even the state Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union submitted testimony against the office's policy, along with retired Honolulu Police Department Chief Michael Nakamura, who said the security measures could identify attendees but not keep them from bringing a gun or a bomb into revocation hearings.

Partington asked the court to declare the sign-in procedure unconstitutional, overturn Freitas' 90-day license revocation and wipe his record clean. The justices unanimously rejected the latter two requests, and Acoba was the sole dissenter on the sign-in procedure.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Partington warned that the court's decision could give city and state agencies unprecedented leeway in controlling access to public hearings in the name of security, especially in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He said it will not be long before others follow the revocation office's lead, requiring meeting attendees to identify themselves and show a photo ID.

"This is a very dangerous decision because of what it permits public agencies to do," Partington said. "The public should be very concerned about this."

Partington said he is considering whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

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