HAWAII — The names of four Honolulu police officers disciplined for misconduct may be withheld indefinitely from a University of Hawaii journalism organization, the state Supreme Court held in mid-October.
The Supreme Court held that the case was still before a circuit court judge in Honolulu and a final judgment should be rendered there before being appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court also stayed the lower court’s preliminary decision, permitting the Honolulu Police Department to continue to withhold the names. The judge had issued a preliminary decision in late March in favor of disclosure, but stayed his own order to allow the police disciplinary organization to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Michael Joy, a police organization spokesperson, said he was pleased with the decision.
“The police officers of this state feel very strongly against disclosure of the names of officers who have been suspended,” Joy said. He added that the department prefers to keep problems inside the organization.
“It is the chief’s job to run the police department,” said Joy. “[Disclosure] infringes on that right. Discipline should be within the department, not in a public forum. Scold in private, praise in public.”
Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald T. Moon wrote a letter to the editor of The Advertiser, a local paper that had joined the suit and printed letters criticizing the decision.
“It is entirely reprehensible and irresponsible of you to accuse the court of ‘acting our of fear of antagonizing the losing side,’ particularly where your newspaper is a party to the case,” wrote Justice Moon. “You are well aware that courts must act on the basis of the evidence and the law, not on the basis of who will be angered by the result.”
The student journalists intend to pursue the case, and in the meantime are seeking disclosure of the circumstances for which the officers were reprimanded without requesting their names.
(SHOPO v. SPJ, Univ. of Hawaii Chapter; Media Counsel: Jeffrey Portnoy)
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