‘Maui News’ Fumbles Hawaii Supreme Court Ruling On Maui County Council Open Meeting Violation

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Not sure if you’ve noticed, but on Aug. 1 The Maui News finally erected a paywall on its website (Mauinews.com). From now on, visitors to the paper’s website will have to pay to read articles that, for the last dozen or so years, the paper has saw fit to give away to readers for free (and news organizations like this publication, Mauinow.com and official County of Maui emailed notifications still offer for free). But don’t think the News isn’t throwing in something extra for readers–in fact, they seem to have instituted a new policy of publishing two stories where in the past they’d just file one.

I’m referring to a couple stories that ran last week concerning a recent Hawaii Supreme Court decision in the case of Daniel Kanahele v. Maui County Council. In that case, Kanahele–a Maui County resident–sued saying the the Council’s Land Use Committee in 2007 and the Council itself in 2008 violated the state’s Open Meetings Law during hearings on the proposed Honua‘ula (Wailea 670) project.

The high court agreed with Kanahele–to a point–and said the County Council violated the so-called “Sunshine Law” by circulating 14 written memoranda that weren’t part of the public meeting. Though the court didn’t overturn the project, they did call for Kanahele to get attorney’s fees–a clear sign that he’d won a significant victory.

After the ruling, Kanahele and his attorney, Lance Collins, received numerous calls of congratulations from good government activists. They were thus surprised to open The Maui News on the morning of Aug. 9 and find that they’d actually lost. “Court: No violation of law in OK of Honua‘ula” said the headline (subscription required), which was written by Maui News City Editor Brian Perry.

What’s more, the story contained copious quotes from County Council Chairperson Gladys Baisa’s surreal Aug. 8 press release “welcoming” the ruling as a “validation of the Council’s current legislative procedures.” Also, readers had to wade through more than two-thirds of the story to find out that, in fact, Kanahele had won a victory.

Needless to say, Kanahele was perturbed, and he emailed Perry that morning. “I am disappointed by the headline you chose to use ‘Court: No Violation of Law…’ which contradicts what you reported in your article, that there was a violation of the ‘sunshine law,’ which is certainly true, for that is the Supreme [Court’s] unanimous conclusion,” Kanahele wrote to Perry. “And, I am surprised you didn’t contact any of the plaintiff’s or our attorney, Lance Collins, to get our input and hear our side of the story and report about that in your article. That would seem to be a fair and balanced thing to do.”

Collins said he talked to Perry later that day, and on Saturday, Aug. 10, The Maui News published a new story (which was strangely missing a byline) titled “Plaintiffs: ‘More than half the loaf’ in ruling” (subscription required) that finally, belatedly told the whole story of the court ruling.

“The court does not award attorneys’ fees to people who lose cases,” Collins dryly noted at the end of the story.

Photo of Hawaii Supreme Court building: D Ramey Logan 2011/Wikimedia Commons