Saturday, April 17, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Bishop Estate critic Beadie Kanahele Dawson testifies
at the confirmation hearing for state Attorney General
Margery Bronster, wearing a lei, left. A Star-Bulletin
survey has found she could lose her post by two votes.

Bronster hearing
stirs many critics

Six senators now oppose
her confirmation, and
eight cite concerns

By Craig Gima


Legislature '99 Even though the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to recommend Margery Bronster be reappointed to a second term as state attorney general, her confirmation is not a done deal.

Bronster's nomination for the moment is at least two votes short of the 13 needed for confirmation, according to a Star-Bulletin survey of 22 of the 25 state senators yesterday.

Six senators said they were definitely voting "no" or leaning against Bronster's nomination, and eight others said they have concerns and are undecided.

"Of all the nominations, this one has got the most serious challenge to it," said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai), who is against Bronster's nomination.

But Judiciary Co-Chairmen Avery Chumbley (D, Kihei) and Matt Matsunaga (D, Palolo) said they believe Bronster will be confirmed when the nomination goes to the Senate.

Those who oppose Bronster's nomination insist their objections do not involve her handling of the Bishop Estate investigation.

Instead, they question why other state departments are asking the Legislature for the ability to hire outside counsel, and are raising other issues, including how her office is handling the Felix consent decree and Department of Hawaiian Home Lands claims.

"We listen to all these various departments that are requesting the right to have special counsel. That's a terrible reflection of the attorney general's office," said Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), who said she will be voting against Bronster's nomination.

Teachers complain

During her confirmation hearing yesterday, Bronster told the Judiciary Committee that some departments want the attorney general to act as a private counsel to advocate for individual departments or agencies.

"That is simply not our job," Bronster said. "We say no, and unfortunately a lot of people don't like that."

Education Chairman David Ige (D, Pearl City) questioned Bronster on why only two attorneys are working on special-education matters related to the Felix consent decree. Ige said the federal court settlement could be costing the state $250 million a year, and that teachers have complained to him that they sometimes have no choice but to approve what may be excessive services for special-needs children because they cannot consult with a state attorney.

Bronster insisted the Felix case is a priority, and said she is working with the Department of Education to address concerns. She said, though, that the solution is not necessarily more attorneys, but more training for teachers and better operational support by the department.

Bronster also defended herself against charges by an Office of Hawaiian Affairs committee that the attorney general's office is in a conflict of interest because it must defend OHA in a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court at the same time the state is negotiating a ceded lands settlement.

"We and OHA are looking for exactly the same result -- that the Supreme Court of the United States will uphold the state constitution that created OHA," Bronster said.

Conflict-of-interest charges

Kamehameha Schools alumni praised Bronster for her courage in pursuing the Bishop Estate investigation, but several employees and a lawyer for the estate testified against her confirmation.

Bishop Estate attorney William McCorriston said the attorney general's office has an "aggressive, unbridled approach to prosecute these people (the trustees) at any expense."

McCorriston also accused Bronster of a conflict of interest because she is representing the state in trying to obtain as cheaply as possible 300 acres of estate land at Queen's Beach in East Oahu in a condemnation proceeding.

"She cannot on the one hand claim to be the protector of the KSBE beneficiaries and on the other hand advocate the stealing of land from the Kamehameha Schools," he said.

Bronster said that to keep the investigation separate from the condemnation, the attorneys in the condemnation proceeding report to someone else.

"I think the Bishop Estate investigation has made certain people not happy with the fact that I'm the attorney general, and it's no surprise to me that there was some opposition," she said.

Bronster received support from attorney Gary Galiher, whose firm she selected to prepare the state's lawsuit against tobacco companies. He said the attorney general's efforts helped increase the state's share of the tobacco industry settlement by $500 million.

Police and prosecutors also praised Bronster for her law enforcement ability.

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