U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Investigative reporter subpoenaed in lawsuit against Maui County, officer

Incident Details

SCREENSHOT

A portion of the subpoena issued to Hawaii News Now investigative reporter Lynn Kawano as part of an ongoing lawsuit three women brought against Maui County and a Maui police officer alleging coercion and sexual harassment.

— SCREENSHOT
January 20, 2023 - Update

Judge quashes subpoena of Hawaii investigative reporter

A district judge quashed the subpoena issued to Hawaii News Now Chief Investigative Reporter Lynn Kawano on Jan. 20, 2023, according to records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. The judge also issued a protective order to shield Kawano from further discovery requests.

Kawano was issued a subpoena on Oct. 13, 2022, seeking communications and testimony in connection with an ongoing lawsuit before the District Court of Hawaii in Honolulu. The subpoena was reissued on Nov. 9 as the result of filing errors, and attorneys representing Kawano and Hawaii News Now filed a motion to quash the subpoena on Nov. 26.

The motion argued that not only is Kawano protected by the state’s qualified journalist’s privilege, but that the information sought is irrelevant to the lawsuit and could be obtained from other sources.

Judge Leslie Kobayashi ruled that while Kawano had been given copies of recorded and text message conversations, it was in the course of her newsgathering and was protected by reporter’s privilege. In addition to quashing the subpoena, Kobayashi also issued a protective order barring the county’s attempts to obtain any information outside the scope of Kawano’s reporting.

Bruce Voss, Kawano’s attorney, praised the decision in an emailed comment to the Tracker.

“This is an important ruling, firmly upholding the news reporter’s privilege for newsgathering within the Ninth Circuit, and setting a high bar for alleged waiver of that privilege,” Voss said. “I appreciate Judge Kobayashi’s thorough and thoughtful review of the facts in the record and the law.”

October 13, 2022

Lynn Kawano, the chief investigative reporter for Hawaii News Now, was issued a subpoena on Oct. 13, 2022, seeking communications and testimony in connection with an ongoing lawsuit before the District Court of Hawaii in Honolulu.

Three women filed a lawsuit against a Maui Police Department officer and Maui County alleging the officer abused his position of power to coerce them into having sex with him, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. Kawano first reported on the allegations in August 2019.

According to court records reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the county sent a letter to Kawano’s attorneys that alleged that Kawano stepped outside of her role as a journalist and acted as an adviser to the women, suggesting they contact attorney Michael Green.

“It is clear that Ms. Kawano has not confined herself to news gathering, but has become an advisor to the plaintiffs,” the letter stated..

Neither Kawano nor Hawaii News Now responded to emailed requests for comment.

The county issued Kawano a subpoena for documents and testimony on Oct. 13, but did not serve her the court order until Oct. 25, according to court filings. The subpoena orders Kawano to produce her communications with Green and the three women, as well as any “attorney referral agreement or client referral agreement” between Kawano and Green or his law firm.

Bruce Voss, Kawano’s attorney, sent an objection letter to the county on Oct. 31 stating that in addition to not serving the subpoena with sufficient time before the deposition date of Nov. 1, that Kawano’s communications are protected by journalist’s privilege.

The county reissued the subpoena on Nov. 9, ordering Kawano to produce the same collection of documents and to appear for a deposition on Dec. 1. According to court documents, Voss filed a motion to quash the subpoena on Kawano’s behalf on Nov. 26.

“HNN can only surmise that the County of Maui is attempting to establish some nefarious plot (that does not exist) for the purposes of distracting from some very bad facts in this case,” the motion states. “Ms. Kawano, as a journalist, is not a discovery depot for the County of Maui.”

Voss declined to comment when reached by email, citing the pending motion to quash. A hearing on the motion has been scheduled for Jan. 5, 2023.

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