Hawaii law shields independent reporter, state court rules

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

HONOLULU — A state judge on Kauai has ruled state law shields independent filmmaker Keoni Kealoha Alvarez from responding to subpoenas or being deposed in a lawsuit involving a property dispute.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, Joseph Brescia had sought to build on land where 30 graves had been discovered.

He was blocked by the courts, but Brescia sued people he claimed delayed his project.

Brescia also subpoenaed Alvarez’s unpublished interviews and raw video footage. Alvarez is not a party in the suits, but he had been documenting Native Hawaiian burial practices.

Alvarez, who was represented by the ACLU and Honolulu attorney James J. Bickerton, invoked the state shield law, which was enacted last year.

Kauai Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe ruled in favor of Alvarez on Sept. 2.

“With this decision, the media shield law can now be confidently asserted by journalists seeking to protect their work,” Bickerton said in a news release. “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shield law means what it says — journalists can protect their confidential sources and can’t be forced to reveal their unpublished information.”

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