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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 12:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 21, 2003

ACLU sues Carlisle over ballot amendment

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai'i today sued Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, alleging he violated taxpayers' free speech rights and state law by using public money to campaign for a ballot question last fall.

In a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court today, the ACLU said Carlisle acted improperly when he spent $2,404.27 in city money to lobby voters to support Amendment No. 3.

The measure, approved in the Nov. 5 general election, allows state prosecutors to send felony cases to trial by submitting reports to a judge.

"The issue here is not about the prosecutor's right to free speech, but about his illegal use of taxpayer resources to express his personal views," said Brent White, ACLU legal director.

The use of public resources to promote one view over another violates the First Amendment rights of citizens with contrary views, White said.

"When government resources are directed to one viewpoint over another, the right of all citizens to a free and fair election is seriously compromised," White said.

Carlisle is also accused of using city employees to pass out campaign brochures to grand jury members during business hours and while on duty, according to the lawsuit. It claims Carlisle promoted these views on a taxpayer-supported computer Web site.

"These are not informational pamphlets, they are telling voters to vote yes," White said. "It is advocacy."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Robert Rees, a political activist and freelance writer who occasionally contributes to The Advertiser. Rees said "false campaigning" by Carlisle overwhelmed the views of people who disagreed with the prosecutor's views.

The lawsuit notes that Rees has exhausted all other ways of getting government officials to rectify the situation, White said.

The ACLU also alleges the state attorney general prevented the state public defender's office from campaigning against Question No. 3 and is upset that the attorney general has declined to pursue an investigation into the use of the money.

Carlisle was unavailable for comment today. He has said, however, that the Honolulu Ethics Commission and the Hawai'i State Ethics Commission both approved of his actions.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.