HAWAII — A state trial judge in Honolulu ruled in a decision filed in early May that the Honolulu Advertiser does not have to give unpublished photographs to a coconut-tree accident victim who plans to file a lawsuit against the city of Honolulu.
Judge Wendell Huddy ruled that the Advertiser may claim a qualified journalist’s privilege. The judge found that the victim failed to demonstrate that the photographs were necessary or critical to her claim, or that the information was unavailable from other sources.
Although in 1961 the Hawaii Supreme Court rejected an assertion that journalists are protected by a constitutional privilege, Judge Huddy wrote that federal rulings in subsequent years caused him to “question the applicability” of the 1961 ruling.
The present case arose from an incident last summer in which a coconut tree fell on a woman while she was sunbathing at a Waikiki beach, the Advertiser reported.
The newspaper, which had published one photograph of the fallen coconut tree, refused to provide the woman with any unpublished photos.
(Belanger v. City of Honolulu; Media Counsel: Jeff Portnoy, Honolulu)
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.