By Rob PerezWednesday, April 25, 2001
Robert Klein's law firm is off the hook. Klein, the former Hawaii Supreme Court associate justice, shouldn't be.
Klein should answer
for his conduct
He should have to answer whether he violated a Supreme Court rule on professional conduct.
Last week, Circuit Judge Dan Kochi denied a motion seeking to disqualify McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon, where Klein now works, from representing State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. in a lawsuit by a former policyholder.
When Klein was on the bench, he signed a 1999 Supreme Court opinion in the State Farm case. Last month, Klein, as a private attorney, represented the insurance company at a state court hearing and successfully argued that opinion be interpreted in a way favorable to his client.
The former policyholder's attorney, Terrance Revere, maintains Klein's participation gave State Farm an unfair advantage. Revere also argues that Klein's involvement violated a Supreme Court rule that prohibits former judges from representing anyone in matters in which they participated while on the bench.
Although Revere says he intends to appeal Kochi's ruling, the McCorriston firm is off the hook for now. Klein may not be so fortunate.
A front-page Raising Cane column last week (Raising Cane, April 20) brought the matter to the attention of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which investigates whether Hawaii lawyers violate the high court's conduct rules.
Carole Richelieu, the office's chief disciplinary counsel, said she couldn't comment on whether her office intends to look into the Klein case.
But speaking generally, she said the office is required to investigate misconduct allegations brought to its attention, even if via a newspaper column.
The Supreme Court rule at issue prohibits a lawyer from representing anyone in connection with a matter in which the lawyer "participated personally and substantially" as a judge unless all parties consent beforehand. No such consent occurred in this case.
Because Klein signed the 1999 opinion, his personal and substantial participation in the matter seems evident, lawyers say.
Klein has not responded to Star-Bulletin requests last week and this week for comment. He won't be able to so easily avoid answering questions about the matter if the disciplinary office conducts an investigation.
To maintain public trust in the judiciary system, such an investigation has to be undertaken.
And if Klein is found to have acted improperly, he must be sanctioned using the same standards the office used to discipline 35 lawyers last year.
In enforcing the rules, there can't be a perception of a double standard -- one for former justices and another for all other attorneys.
Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.