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Popular “MAUIWatch” Facebook Page Founder Files Federal Lawsuit Against Maui County For Unlawful Attempts to Silence Speech

The ACLU of Hawaii Foundation (“ACLU”) announced today that a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) have been filed against Maui County based on the County’s efforts to restrict what Neldon Mamuad may say on his prominent “MAUIWatch” Facebook feed. The lawsuit asks for a court order declaring the County’s actions to be unconstitutional as well as expungement of any record of disciplinary action from Mamuad’s employment records. The TRO asks that the County immediately stop threatening Mr. Mamuad for his speech and conduct outside of work. Cooperating attorneys Marcus Landsberg IV and Maui-based attorneys Phillip Lowenthal and Samuel MacRoberts are assisting with the case.

Neldon Mamuad is both an employee of Maui County and a volunteer Liquor Commissioner – newly appointed Liquor Commission Chairman. Outside work, he is well known for enjoying vigorous debate on the actions of local police and other public figures, first via his radio show “TAGUMAWatch” – dedicated to personal stories from both supporters and detractors of a high profile Maui police officer – and Maui law enforcement. In 2013, Mr. Mamuad took the discussion online, to a Facebook page later renamed “MAUIWatch,” where it carries on its work crowdsourcing Maui news and traffic in real time. MAUIWatch, with nearly 26,000 Facebook followers, is one of the most-cited Maui-based news sources, utilized by national networks and local newsgathering organizations across the State.

Cooperating attorney Marcus Landsberg IV said: “Like many people who work by day and blog by night, Mr. Mamuad never uses County computers or time for his personal hobby, which is protected free speech. If Mr. Mamuad weren’t a County officer, the County wouldn’t be able to touch him at all – his speech is completely protected by the First Amendment. But because he also serves as a volunteer Liquor Commission Chairman, the County believes it has the right to control everything he does and everything he says in his free time. This is contrary to well settled federal law – public employees don’t give up their free speech rights merely because they work for the government.”

Plaintiff Neldon Mamuad said: “I am a Part-Time County employee and volunteer Liquor Commissioner. Government officers & employees have First Amendment rights, and I just want the County to respect mine. If I was none of those, we would never be here.”

Cooperating attorney Phillip Lowenthal added: “Mr. Mamuad’s Facebook page is protected speech. The County just doesn’t like the attention, and it is using its governmental position and power as his employer to silence him. It’s flat-out wrong. The people of Maui and the State of Hawaii deserve better.”

Cooperating attorney Samuel MacRoberts said: “The County is trying to muzzle our client to silence criticism – a clear violation of the Constitution which all County officials are sworn to protect. The County is saying that if any County employee criticizes anyone else in County government, the County will come after you. It’s called a “chilling effect” on free speech. We’re challenging this in court because our Constitution, specifically the First Amendment, is designed to prevent this kind of intimidation by government.”

Daniel M. Gluck, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU of Hawaii Foundation concluded: “This is the third federal lawsuit charging clear and harmful First Amendment violations by Maui County in less than a year. This apparent lack of regard for free speech rights is regrettable, as the County continues to infringe people’s rights while ultimately placing the costs for these avoidable actions onto the taxpayer.” In February 2014, the ACLU and the law firm of Davis Levin Livingston filed a lawsuit over police threats toward Pastor Strat Goodhue and his wife for handing out religious flyers on a public sidewalk near the Maui Fair. In September 2013, the ACLU and the County settled a case (filed in June of that year) involving unconstitutional County rules that prohibited holding signs along public roadways. As part of the settlement, Maui County agreed to revise its rules and practices.

Filed Complaint

Filed Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Memo in Support.

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