Attorney: judge’s decision in case involving HNN is a win for First Amendment

Fmr. MPD Officer Brandon Saffeels leaving federal court.
Fmr. MPD Officer Brandon Saffeels leaving federal court.(None)
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 11:14 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 24, 2023 at 11:53 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A federal judge has ruled HNN Chief Investigative Reporter Lynn Kawano doesn’t have to provide Maui County attorneys with information she gathered while covering the case of a Maui police officer who is now behind bars.

HNN attorney Bruce Voss called the order, from U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi, is an important First Amendment win that upholds what’s known as “reporter’s privilege,” or protections journalists have from being compelled to testify, reveal confidential sources or hand over materials or information they obtain in the newsgathering process.

“I appreciate Judge Kobayashi’s thorough and thoughtful review of the facts in the record and the law,” Voss said.

The situation arose in a civil suit against Maui County over former police officer Brandon Saffeels, who was sentenced in 2021 to 30 months behind bars for soliciting sex in exchange for lying under oath.

Maui County attorneys had sought to compel Kawano to testify and hand over information she’d gathered.

But Kobayashi ruled the county hadn’t met the high bar needed to overcome Kawano’s privilege and prove they couldn’t get the information elsewhere.

HNN News Director Scott Duff said the sweeping order is an affirmation of the important work Kawano and reporters like her do every day.

“I have worked with many journalists in my career and Lynn’s integrity and journalistic ethics are second to none,” Duff added. “She is one of the top investigative journalists in the country.”

Kawano, an investigative reporter with 28 years of experience, agreed that the court’s decision underscores the vital — and protected — nature of journalists’ work.

“Because of the work of HNN, he (Saffeels) was put on leave, investigated, charged, then pleaded guilty,” she said, noting that Saffeels was also later convicted of child enticement.

“I take my role very seriously. Exposing people who do wrong should not come with a price tag or punishment.”

HNN media partner Civil Beat has also reported on this case.

They were unable to reach Maui County attorneys for comment.