The Verdict: Judge Rules In Favor Of Public Disclosure Of Misconduct
Read Hawaii Circuit Court Judge John Lim’s ruling from March 30, 1994. He denied the state police unions attempt to block officer disciplinary records from being disclosed. It was published on the editorial page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on April 8, 1994. Lim died in 2007.
There’s been a lot of high flown rhetoric flying around in this courtroom. So much so that I feel justified indulging myself in some hot air myself.
When I think about this society we live in, I think that it is a great one. I don’t know if there’s a society that man has made on this green earth anytime, anywhere that is better than the one we live in. We are free; our rights are protected; and because we are free and our rights are protected we are prosperous; and because we are prosperous we are peaceful, safe and secure.
Thinking about this state of affairs, it is very easy to forget how we came to be as a nation. This nation came to be in the fire and blood of rebellion and revolution. Our founding fathers … you see paintings of them, they’re got their powdered wigs and their frilly clothes, but make no mistake they were ruffians; they were rebels, revolutionaries, armed revolutionaries who knew how to use those weapons and did use those weapons in a deadly manner and in anger.
Now, why did they rebel? Why were they so committed as to be violent revolutionaries? Well, there are a lot of reasons — economic, cultural, what have you. But the reason that has survived through the centuries and has become established, institutionalized and constitutionalized in our society, is a profound mistrust of government and its attendant police power.
Our Constitution — the United States Constitution — is rife with protections against government and its attendant police power, and these protections are magnified in the Hawaii State Constitution — the right to bear arms, freedom of speech and assembly, prohibition against deprivation of rights and property without due process of law.
All of these reflect this fundamental value of our society; profound distrust of government and its attendant police power.
Underlying all of those protections against that government and that police power is the people’s right to know. How do you exercise your rights against the government unless you know what the government is doing?
Having said that, is it not paradoxical that the United States of America has the finest police force in the world? We, who as a people so profoundly mistrust government and its attendant police power, have the finest police force in the world.
And the Honolulu Police Department, I know … is the best police force in the nation. Professional, effective, efficient, helpful, mindful of individual rights and protection, gracious, courteous and often cheerful. How do we as a people, who are so mistrustful of government and its attendant police power, enjoy such excellent men and women in uniform? It is precisely because of the public’s right to know.
The public has a right to know, and therefore it does know and because it knows it insists that its police officers be professional.
The public has a right to know, and therefore it does know and because it knows it insists that its police officers be educated.
The public has a right to know, and therefore it does know and because it knows it insists that its police officers observe individual rights and protections, at the same time it serves the public and protects the public.
I have heard the public’s right to know referred to rather dismissingly at certain junctures of this hearing; I think that’s wrong. I think the public’s right to know is a fundamental interest in our society. It is institutionalized, it is constitutionalized, it is an interest of the first priority.
Now, I’m not saying that you, ladies and gentlemen of the Honolulu Police Department, if left without supervision would automatically not be men and women who want to do their best, men and women who want to serve the public interest. But let me repeat to you a truism, and it is a truism because it is true. Despite all the best efforts of men and women down through the ages, this one fact remains, and that is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Despite our best intentions, that still remains true.
And the reason that you, ladies and gentlemen of the Honolulu Police Department, are such professionals, so effective, such an asset to our community, is just because the public has a right to know, and because they have a right to know, they do know and because they know, they insist that you be excellent.
Therefore, I find that the public’s right to know is paramount in this case.
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DISCUSSION: What do you think of what Judge Lim had to say about the public's right to know?