Saturday, July 21, 2001

Media barred from
estate proceedings

The Star-Bulletin and KITV
appealed to the state high court
but lost over a technicality

By Rick Daysog

A state judge does not have to open the Estate of James Campbell legal proceedings to the public, the Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled.

The justices yesterday denied a petition for a writ of mandamus by KITV-4 and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin to overturn Probate Judge Colleen Hirai's recent decision to hold close-door hearings in the Campbell Estate case.

The Supreme Court's ruling came on the same day that Hirai held a secret hearing to approve a sealed settlement between the $2 billion trust and its former law firm, Ashford & Wriston.

Evan Shirley, attorney for KITV and the Star-Bulletin, said he was disappointed with the high court's decision and said he filed a notice of appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court.

"The Hawaii Supreme Court has been very supportive of the First Amendment and fundamental freedoms," Shirley said. "They got it wrong this time."

In a written order, the five justices -- Chief Justice Ronald Moon and Associate Justices Mario Ramil, Paula Nakayama, Steven Levinson and Simeon Acoba -- rejected the KITV and Star-Bulletin request for a writ largely on procedural grounds.

The news organizations should have sought an appeal of Hirai's order and not a writ, the justices said.

Unlike an appeal, which can take years to decide, a writ asks the Supreme Court to change or modify a lower court ruling due to a clear error or irreparable harm.

The high court decision was issued about the time that Hirai approved the secret settlement between the Campbell Estate and Ashford & Wriston yesterday morning.

The estate sued its former law firm in 1999 for legal malpractice, saying the firm mishandled a multimillion-dollar leasehold arbitration case.

Under the settlement, the two sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit and set aside a sealed ruling made last year by former Probate Judge Kevin Chang.

Chang ruled in favor of Ashford & Wriston, saying the Campbell Estate's trustees were in a position of conflict and should have sought court approval when they sued their attorneys.

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