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Media attorney: Court violates rules in sealing case records

February 20, 2018

HONOLULU (AP) — The mother of a first-grader sued a Hawaii private college-preparatory school for its attempt to expel her son because of a disruption stemming from his father’s troubles with the law.

The court allowed the mother’s attorney to file the documents under seal last month without holding a hearing or giving the public advance notice about the plaintiff’s request to keep the documents confidential, according to court records.

Even the request to file the documents under seal and the order granting the request are themselves sealed, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported .

A Hawaii media attorney said the court’s actions appear to be contrary to two Hawaii Supreme Court decisions that spelled out the process judges must follow before closing proceedings or sealing documents that otherwise would be public.

“It appears to be a clear violation,” said Jeff Portnoy, who has represented various media outlets, including the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The two Supreme Court decisions stated that judges must provide advance notice to the public and hold a hearing before matters could be sealed or closed, according to Portnoy.

The more recent decision stemmed from a challenge that Oahu Publications Inc., parent of the Star-Advertiser, made to the sealing of documents in a criminal proceeding.

“When the court seals a document on the basis that it may contain personal information in violation of the Hawaii Court Records Rules, it should promptly issue a written order in the case giving notice of and briefly stating the reason for the sealing,” the justices wrote in the December 2016 decision in the OPI case.

The Star-Advertiser notified the court last week of the newspaper’s objection to how the documents were sealed in the Punahou School case.

The Punahou School student’s father was arrested in June on suspicion of promoting pornography to a minor but was never charged. He was accused of showing a pornographic video to a then-4-year-old girl at a sleepover with his son, according to a police report.

The mother’s attorney, Eric Seitz, declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by the Star-Advertiser, but said his client denies the allegations.

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Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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