The University of Hawaii Law School and the ACLU are standing behind by a faculty member who’s been asked to stop commenting on legal cases. The request came from the attorney for former police chief Louis Kealoha. The ACLU says attorney Rustam Barbee is violating Ken Lawson’s right to free speech. 

Barbee says free speech is one thing but he says Lawson is undermining the credibility of the law school.

Rustam Barbee sent a letter to the UH Law School Dean saying he should stop Lawson from making comments on the news about Louis Kealoha and other defendants. The letter adds that if Lawson does not stop the law school should fire him. This prompted the ACLU of Hawaii to respond. 

“We’re always concerned anytime there’s an attempt to stifle someone’s free-speech those concerns are heightened. When there’s an attempt to get a government entity in this case the University of Hawaii to fire someone because they exercise their free speech rights,” said Joshua Wisch, ACLU Hawaii’s Executive Director.

Barbee says Lawson is setting a bad example for a public university and his students because during his interviews Lawson is stating opinions about the defendants’ guilt. 

“Mr. Lawson has commented that it’s his opinion that the defendant is guilty before there’s even a trial. I do have a problem with that if the law school doesn’t have a problem with it then that’s up to them,” said Rustam Barbee, attorney for Louis Kealoha.

Lawson is also the co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project and Barbee says Lawson is also undermining the credibility of that organization. 

“Where on one hand they’re trying to exonerate people that have been convicted after a trial and at the same time having their co-director opine as to the guilt of other people that haven’t had their trial yet,” said Barbee.

Lawson says he does not state his opinion on whether any of the defendants are guilty. He adds that Barbee’s letter is a bullying tactic which Lawson says won’t stop him from speaking out. 

“This case is a teaching moment for this state. I teach criminal law. I practiced criminal law for years and I was very good at it and so for this man to sit here and say that somehow I should be fired for talking about police and prosecutorial misconduct which is the leading cause of wrongful convictions,” said Ken Lawson, UH Law School faculty. 

The dean of the law school tells me he supports Lawson. I also asked attorney Brook Hart who is a founding member of the Hawaii Innocence Project, if Lawson undermines the organization. Hart says no because Lawson is not speaking on behalf of the Hawaii Innocence Project.