U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Family Court judge quashes subpoena issued to former Honolulu Civil Beat reporter

Incident Details

November 17, 2021

A Family Court judge in Kapolei, Hawaii, quashed a subpoena in 2022 that requested reporting notes, text messages and emails from former Honolulu Civil Beat reporter Kevin Knodell.

Knodell was issued the subpoena on Nov. 17, 2021, after publishing articles detailing Navy service member Jonathan Stremel’s claims that gender bias impacted a military investigation into child abuse allegations. Knodell extensively interviewed military officials, experts and Stremel’s wife’s lawyer, David Hayakawa, while investigating the claims.

According to Civil Beat, Stremel subpoenaed Knodell during his divorce case, and asked a judge to sanction Hayakawa for sharing full documents with Knodell, arguing the files were confidential.

A copy of the subpoena shows Stremel demanded a list of items, including published and unpublished documents, encrypted text messages between Knodell and his sources, and communications between Knodell and his editors.

Knodell, who now works for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he is glad the case is finally settled and he can move forward with his life and other reporting.

“From a precedent standpoint, I hope this can be cited in other cases where reporters are harassed or attempts to use them as witnesses in court proceedings are made,” Knodell said.

Civil Beat General Manager Patti Epler told the Tracker that even though Hawaii doesn’t have a shield law and Knodell is no longer on staff, it was still in the news outlet’s best interest to fight against the order.

“The subpoena did not name Civil Beat, but there was no indication that it wouldn’t, and it didn’t seem right not to defend someone who had done good work for us and had done the reporting in good faith,” Epler said.

In a “Behind the Story” article for Civil Beat about the subpoena, Epler wrote that Judge Elizabeth Paek-Harris quashed the subpoena and denied any sanctions against Hayakawa in a March 2022 hearing. Paek-Harris ruled that providing Knodell documents from the divorce case was not a violation of any court rule. The final order was issued in July.

Epler said Civil Beat would continue protecting its reporters from these legal orders.

“It's really on us to defend our staff and argue against any kind of intrusion whether it's from the government or elsewhere.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include comment from reporter Kevin Knodell.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]