BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway has authorized Hawaii Reporter, the Star-Advertiser and Honolulu Civil Beat to cover the trial involving human trafficking allegations against Global Horizons via live blogging this February.
Hawaii’s federal judges have prohibited live blogging in the past, but Mollway, who is the chief judge, allowed one media outlet – Honolulu Civil Beat – to live blog in the human trafficking case against Aloun Farms owners Mike and Alec Sou as a trial this September. The online news source had to provide its content to the other media at no charge.
But Hawaii Reporter and Star-Adertiser protested saying they also applied for this privilege – albeit a couple of days after Honolulu Civil Beat – and wanted access to live blogging capabilities as well.
So this time around, after much deliberation with reporters and editors about balancing transparency with keeping order in the court room, Mollway has ruled that she will allow all three media outlets that filed requests with the court in advance to blog from her courtroom during this trial. No neighbor island press, television and radio stations or the Associated Press news wire applied.
As is the policy in federal court, no live video, recordings or photographs are allowed, and each media outlet will be allowed just one reporter on the scene with electronic equipment.
Mollway’s decision, which includes detailed rules that the media must follow or be held in contempt of court, may lead the way for other federal judges in Hawaii to allow this kind of media access and transparency.
A group formed by U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright earlier this year, which includes all television, print and online local media outlets, and Hawaii Supreme Court Judge Sabrina McKenna and staff, and 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Clifton, has already met twice about improving access and working relations between the courts and media.
Setting the ground rules for live blogging in the federal court was one of the issues tackled at the second meeting held Tuesday at Hawaii News Now television headquarters.
A second group organized by U.S. District Judge David Ezra, which includes Hawaii Reporter, continues to review issues surrounding video recording and broadcasting from the federal court room, but is on hold until the issue can be resolved on a national level.
The Global Horizon trial should garner international interest and media attention as it involves allegations against Global Horizons Manpower Company executives, including its CEO, Mordechai Orian.
The FBI claims this case, which involves the relocation of an estimated 700 Thai workers from Thailand to America to work on farms in Hawaii and the mainland, is the “largest human trafficking case in U.S. history.”
Seven people have been charged in the case, including three who plead guilty.
Prosecutors allege the defendants promised the Thai workers high-paying jobs in the United States. Some paid fees as high as $21,000 to secure U.S. jobs, putting up family farms in Thailand as collateral. But once they arrived in the U.S., the workers’ passports were confiscated and they were threatened by their handlers. Nearly all of the alleged victims were forced to work on farms in Hawaii before being moved to farms in other states.
Global Horizon CEO Mordechai Orian told Hawaii Reporter in an earlier interview that the workers are lying to authorities because they want to live and work in America where they can take $2,000 a month instead of $60 a month back home.
Orian, who has appeared on a 1-hour Hawaii Reporter television show, is confident that he will be found not guilty of all of the criminal accusations and will be vindicated in the end.