MAUIWatch founder Neldon Mamuad alleges that county officials have repeatedly violated his First Amendment rights, states a 34-page lawsuit Mamuad filed against the County of Maui on Mar. 3 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. The lawsuit, which also asks for a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the county, paints a picture of county officials carrying out systematic harassment of Mamuad–who is also a county employee–whose page has so far gathered more than 25,000 “likes.”
“This action seeks an order prohibiting Defendant County from interfering with Plaintiff Mamuad’s right to speak freely and ordering the County expunge any record of disciplinary action from Plaintiff Mamuad’s records,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, and damages, from Maui County for its past and ongoing violations of Plaintiff’s classic right to free speech.”
In to the lawsuit, Mamuad says county officials have been haranguing him since last summer. In July 2013, Mamuad founded TAGUMAWatch, a Facebook page that sought to publicize the comings and goings of Maui Police Officer Keith Taguma, the infamous traffic cop known all over the island for writing thousands of tickets every year, as well as share traffic related news and photos. But just a few weeks after the webpages launch, the lawsuit states, county Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong called Mamuad (who had so far kept his name away from TAGUMAWatch) to say that he “was very upset with the page and wanted it to stop–specifically, that writing about Officer Taguma cease.”
It was about this time that I got a tip that Mamuad, who also works part-time for County Councilman Don Guzman (for which he’s paid hourly, according to the lawsuit) and serves as an unpaid county Liquor Commissioner, was the guy running TAGUMAWatch. I called him, but Mamuad would only say that he couldn’t comment on it, though he did admit to orchestrating a past “Taguma Watch” feature for a radio station that used to employ him (in February of this year, the lawsuit states, Civil Beat ran a story naming Mamuad as the founder of MAUIWatch, the result of a “miscommunication” in which Mamuad “thought that he would remain anonymous).
In any case, the lawsuit says that on the day I posted my Mauifeed blog post on Mamuad–Aug. 9, 2013–Wong asked for a follow-up meeting with Guzman. At that meeting two days later, the lawsuit states, Wong asked Mamuad to change the name of his website, which Mamuad agreed to do. Since then, TAGUMAWatch has been known as MAUIWatch, and has steered clear of Taguma.
But according to the lawsuit, that county hasn’t steered clear of MAUIWatch. The lawsuit states that in August 2013, Taguma filed a complaint against Mamuad with county Managing Director Keith Regan, claiming that the website was harassing him. In September 2013, the lawsuit says, Mamuad received a letter from the Corporation Counsel’s office informing him of Taguma’s complaint.
Though that letter didn’t tell Mamuad what exactly he allegedly did wrong, the lawsuit states that a subsequent letter informed Mamuad that he was in violation of the Violence in the Workplace Action Plan. The lawsuit says that on Jan. 24, 2014, Regan sent Mamuad a letter stating that “you subjected a fellow County employee to harassment and cyber-bullying through the use of an online social media website”–which Mamuad denies in his lawsuit. The lawsuit further states that though Mamuad repeatedly asked county officials if could appeal that claim, he has yet to receive a response, which is apparently why he filed the lawsuit.
For his suit, Mamuad has engaged considerable legal talent. His complaint lists five attorneys from three firms and organizations: Lois K. Perrin and Daniel Gluck from ACLU’s Hawaii office, Marcus Landsberg IV from Landsberg Law office in Honolulu and Phil Lowenthal and Samuel MacRoberts of the Law Office of Phil Lowenthal in Wailuku (Lowenthal and MacRoberts also represent MauiTime publisher Tommy Russo).
“I am a Part-Time County employee and volunteer Liquor Commissioner,” Mamuad said in a Mar. 14 press release sent out by the Hawaii office of the ACLU. “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.”
Rod Antone, the county’s Communications Director, had no comment on the lawsuit. “The County of Maui will not be issuing a comment regarding the ACLU’s press release,” he said in a Mar. 14 email. “We are in the process of obtaining special counsel to represent the county in federal court and that has not been completed at this time. Corporation Counsel will be making a formal request before council members in Monday’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee (PIA) for special counsel. That meeting starts at 9am and is held in council chambers.”
Photo of Neldon Mamuad courtesy his Google+ page