Wednesday, November 3, 1999

Mehau, Wong
met with Legislators
prior to Bronster
vote, notes show

Critics believe the Bishop Estate
played a role in in the
ouster of A.G. Bronster

By Rick Daysog


Three freshmen state senators who played a role in derailing the confirmation of former Attorney General Margery Bronster met with then-trustee Richard "Dickie" Wong and longtime political insider Larry Mehau prior to the ouster of the state's highest law enforcement officer.

Sens. Colleen Hanabusa, Jan Yagi Buen and David Matsuura said they met with Wong and Mehau to discuss organization issues at least two months before Bronster's controversial confirmation defeat. But Wong, in a recent deposition, said they discussed Bronster's confirmation. Mehau, in a telephone message to Wong, said he thought they had the votes to stop Bronster's appointment, according to the deposition.

Critics said the meeting -- detailed in a series of telephone messages recorded by Wong's longtime secretary -- confirms that the Bishop Estate and its trustees were actively seeking to remove Bronster, whose two-year investigation of the multibillion-dollar trust had alleged criminal wrongdoing on the part of Wong and fellow trustee Henry Peters.

Gov. Ben Cayetano, who has strongly suggested that the Bishop Estate trustees lobbied senators against Bronster's confirmation, said he only recently learned of the January meeting.

"That message indicates those guys made up their minds long in advance right?" Cayetano said.

Wong's deposition and Mehau's phone message are among evidence presented in a suit to permanently remove Wong and Peters from the Bishop Estate board.

Wong and his attorney, Glenn Sato, could not be reached for immediate comment this morning. Wong -- who was temporarily removed from his $1 million-a-year post by Probate Judge Kevin Chang on May 7 -- previously denied that he lobbied for Bronster's removal. But in an Oct. 20 deposition, Wong confirmed that he met with the freshman legislators to explain the ins-and-outs of the legislative process, several sources said.

Wong said the issue of Bronster's confirmation came up during the meeting but was not discussed in detail. He said both sides expressed their concerns about the attorney general and Wong told them he believed that Bronster acted improperly, sources said. Mehau, a former state Land Use Commissioner and supporter of former Gov. Jack Burns, also confirmed the meeting but said they did not discuss Bronster's confirmation.

He also denied that he told Wong that he had enough votes to overturn Bronster's confirmation.

Matsuura and Hanabusa also confirmed that they met with Wong to discuss organizational issues but said they did not discuss Bronster's confirmation. Matsuura, who placed the meeting in February or early March and not in January as Wong had, said Mehau may have been present at the meeting.

Buen, who recalls that Mehau was present, said she could not remember whether Bronster was discussed.

In April the Senate, by a 14-11 margin, rejected Bronster's nomination. The controversial vote touched off a storm of protest, marked by demonstrations and hundreds of angry letters and e-mails to senators.

Critics believe the Senate's rejection of Bronster's confirmation underscores the 115-year-old trust's clout in the state Legislature. Wong is a former Senate president and Peters is a former House Speaker.

"This confirms the widespread suspicion that the Bishop Estate or the trustees played some role" in the Bronster controversy, said Walter Heen, chairman of the state Democratic Party and co-author of the 1997 "Broken Trust" article that prompted Cayetano to launch the state's investigation of the estate.

The senators, however, denied that the Bishop Estate affected their no-votes. Hanabusa said her vote against Bronster had nothing to do with the Bishop Estate controversy. She said she was concerned by Bronster's management skills and her views toward constituents in her Waianae district.

Earlier this year, Bronster apologized for statements suggesting that the educational level in the Waianae area resulted in voter anomalies during the previous election.

When informed about the senators' meetings with Wong, Bronster yesterday said it all shows how much clout the Bishop Estate retained in the state Legislature. She also faulted senators for making decisions behind closed doors.

"It shows for me how insincere all of the other issues were," Bronster said.

"I think the people in the state deserve better."

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