Free Speech Victory for MAUIWatch!

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

HONOLULU, HAWAII – The federal lawsuit alleging unconstitutional interference with plaintiff Neldon Mamuad’s prominent “MAUIWatch” Facebook feed settled on 5/8/14. Honolulu-based attorney Marcus Landsberg IV, Maui-based attorneys Phillip Lowenthal and Samuel MacRoberts, and the ACLU of Hawaii represented Mr. Mamuad and were prepared to argue a Motion for Preliminary Injunction on Monday morning, when the County agreed to settle the case on terms that would protect both Mr. Mamuad and all other County employees.

As part of the settlement, the County agreed to drastically re-write its anti-harassment policy to make clear that the 2,500 employees of the County are still entitled to their First Amendment rights outside the workplace. 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. 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. With over 28,000 Facebook followers, MAUIWatch is one of the most-cited Maui-based news sources, utilized by national networks and local newsgathering organizations across the State.

Plaintiff Neldon Mamuad said: “The County violated my free speech rights and wasted taxpayer money by trying to censor the content of MAUIWatch. 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 doesnʻt like.”

ACLU Senior Staff Attorney, Daniel Gluck, said: “Todayʻs 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.”

Cooperating attorney Marcus Landsberg IV said: “Today’s settlement assures Maui County will rewrite their polices to recognize employees do not give up the right to free speech just by cashing a County paycheck. Thankfully, MAUIWatch can immediately resume its mission without fear of County retaliation and residents can again receive information unfiltered by illegal County oversight.”

Cooperating attorney Samuel MacRoberts added: “Todayʻs victory sends an important message to everyone, including employees and volunteers for the County: Rights are worth fighting for. If we do not stand up for our rights, we will lose them.”