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MAUIWatch Claims Free-Speech Victory

Maui County agrees not to interfere with county official’s personal Facebook news site.

May 15, 2014
Maui Weekly

The federal lawsuit alleging Maui County's unconstitutional interference with plaintiff Neldon Mamuad's prominent "MAUIWatch" Facebook feed has been settled, according to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawai'i press release issued on Friday, May 9.

Honolulu-based Attorney Marcus Landsberg IV, Maui-based Attorneys Phillip Lowenthal and Samuel MacRoberts, and the ACLU of Hawai'i represented Mamuad and were prepared to argue a Motion for Preliminary Injunction on Monday, May 12, when the county agreed to settle the case on terms that would protect both Mamuad and all other county employees.

As part of the settlement, the county agreed to rewrite its anti-harassment policy. The changes will also require the county's lawyers to review any complaints of harassment at an early stage, to make sure that county employees do not have to submit to intrusive interviews about their off-work activities that are protected by the First Amendment, the ACLU press release stated. Additionally, the county will expunge any record of disciplinary action related to Mamuad's free speech activities. The county will also pay $25,000 in attorneys' fees and damages.

Mamuad is a part-time employee of Maui County and a volunteer Liquor Commissioner. On his personal time, he founded the "MAUIWatch" Facebook page, crowdsourcing Maui news, opinion and traffic in real time.

"The county violated my free-speech rights and wasted taxpayer money by trying to censor the content of MAUIWatch," said Mamuad. "It took a month of mediation and settlement conferences, but we finally got the county to realize that they were swimming upstream against well-settled federal law and against the Constitution. I brought this case to protect my rights and to make sure all other public employees and volunteers can exercise their First Amendment rights as well. Hopefully, the county has learned its lesson and realized that the government cannot use its power to quiet opinions it doesn't like."

ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck said, "Today's settlement reaffirms that government employees do not sign away their free-speech rights just by working or volunteering for the government--period. Maui County's employees and volunteers can now express themselves without fear of unconstitutional retaliation."

However, a press release from County of Maui Public Information Communications Director Rod Antone said, "... the county remains firm in its stance that Mr. Mamuad should not have been allowed to conduct a personal vendetta against Officer [Keith] Taguma, then proceed to lie about his intent by saying it was all in the name of the First Amendment. That sort of blatant disregard for the truth goes against everything the First Amendment stands for in the first place. Certainly the ACLU took this into account, which is why they agreed to settle and we appreciate that."

"At no time did the County of Maui ask Mamuad to take down the TagumaWatch--now named MauiWatch-- Facebook page," said Maui County Deputy Corporation Counsel Moana Lutey. "This was never an issue, although he would have his Facebook followers, the public and the media believe otherwise."

 
 

 

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