Victory In “Media Shield” Case
September 03, 2009
Kauai Judge Rules that Hawaii’s Media Shield Law Protects Documentary Filmmaker’s Work
HONOLULU – The ACLU of Hawaii today announced a victory for all journalists in Hawaii in the wake of Kauai Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Watanabe’s ruling yesterday that Hawaii’s new “media shield” law applies to independent filmmaker Keoni Alvarez and that he cannot be forced to reveal his unpublished work or his confidential sources. After a court hearing, Judge Watanabe granted Alvarez’s request for a protective order, meaning that Alvarez will not be subjected to an invasive deposition and is not required to respond to subpoenas demanding his work product.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii (“ACLU”) and Honolulu attorney James J. Bickerton (of Bickerton Lee Dang & Sullivan) represented Alvarez, an independent filmmaker who has spent the last four years preparing a documentary about Native Hawaiian burial practices and who was unwittingly drawn into a legal battle over the construction of Joseph A. Brescia’s home on Naue Point on Kauai. Brescia’s attorneys, in a search for evidence in support of his case, issued several sweeping subpoenas demanding nearly all of Alvarez’s unpublished interviews and raw video footage and insisting that he answer questions about his observations and his activities in a deposition under oath.
Bickerton and the ACLU filed a motion for a protective order, asking Judge Watanabe to block the deposition and to prohibit Brescia from issuing more subpoenas to Alvarez. Judge Watanabe granted both requests.
Bickerton said, “With this decision, the media shield law can now be confidently asserted by journalists seeking to protect their work. The Judge ruled that the media shield law means what it says – journalists can protect their confidential sources and can’t be forced to reveal their unpublished information.”
Alvarez expressed relief, “I can continue to work on my projects with integrity – without fear that I may have to betray the trust of my interview subjects. Without this ruling, people wouldn’t trust me and I wouldn’t be able to work on really sensitive projects like this one.”
Daniel Gluck, ACLU senior staff attorney, stated, The court has enforced the Legislature’s intent. This is a big win for the community because journalists now have the tools needed to distribute information and ideas – crucial for a strong, independent, and free press.”
The mission of the ACLU of Hawaii is to protect the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the U.S. and State Constitutions. The ACLU of Hawaii fulfills this through legislative, litigation, and public education programs statewide. The ACLU of Hawaii is a non-partisan and private nonprofit organization that provides its services at no cost to the public and does not accept government funds. The ACLU of Hawaii has been serving Hawaii since 1965.
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