Posted on Apr 24, 2017 in Formal Opinions

Opinion Letter No. F17-03
April 24, 2017
Email Messages Protected by Attorney-Client Privilege

Under Part III of the UIPA, Requester challenged the partial denial by the Planning Department, County of Hawaii (PLAN-H) of his request to access to email messages regarding whether Requester, as a tour operator, can bring guests to enter the Kaohe Homesteads property to view the lava flow (Messages).

OIP found that the Messages constitute the Requester’s personal records because they identify him by name and are about him.  As OIP further found, however, five Messages that PLAN-H received or sent to its assigned Deputy Corporation Counsel (Attorney-Client Messages) constitute confidential and privileged attorney-client communications under Rule 503, Hawaii Rules of Evidence, chapter 626, HRS.  Thus, OIP concluded that these Attorney-Client Messages may be withheld from Requester under the exemption in Part III of the UIPA for personal records “authorized to be so withheld by constitutional or statutory privilege.”  HRS § 92F‑22(5) (2012).

OIP also opined that PLAN-H is required to disclose to Requester three Messages that were exchanged between PLAN-H Director and employees (Intra-agency Messages). There is no applicable exemption under Part III of the UIPA that would allow these three Intra-agency Messages to be withheld from the subject individual.

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