In win for transparency, state Supreme Court overturns restrictions on public records

Attendees gathered for a hearing at the state Supreme Court on the Thirty Meter Telescope....
Attendees gathered for a hearing at the state Supreme Court on the Thirty Meter Telescope. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Dec. 23, 2018 at 10:52 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled Friday that a longstanding interpretation of the state’s open records law was “palpably erroneous.”

The ruling means communications between government agencies that had been kept secret must be released.

The case was brought to the court by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest after a reporter for Civil Beat, a digital news site operating in Honolulu, requested budget memos from all city departments.

The city denied the request based on state Office of Information Practices rulings, which said that such communications were part of a “deliberative process” that could be kept secret.

But the Supreme Court ruling says that interpretation was wrong.

It said OIP erroneously decided that a part of the law that prevents disclosure if it would “frustrate a legitimate government function” covered all communications that were made by agencies before formal decisions were made.

The court said it did not matter that the erroneous OIP opinion had been enforced since 1989.

The case will now be sent back to the lower courts which will decide whether the documents should be released or still withheld for a reason other than their place in a “deliberative function.”

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