Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Tycoons to share tab
in Kamehameha suit

Three businessmen agree to pay
some of a student's legal bills

A Campbell Estate heir, a former owner of the state's largest newspaper and the former head of a local theater chain have agreed to finance part of a Kauai seventh-grader's lawsuit challenging the Kamehameha Schools' admission policy.

James Growney, a beneficiary of the $2 billion Estate of James Campbell, former Honolulu Advertiser President Thurston Twigg-Smith and Wallace Theatre founder Scott Wallace plan to pick up some legal costs incurred by 12-year-old Brayden Mohica-Cummings, said the boy's lawyer John Goemans.

Goemans said that he and attorney Eric Grant recently approached the three while negotiating a settlement with Kamehameha Schools' legal team, which refused to pay for Mohica-Cummings' legal expenses.

Goemans stressed that the benefactors are only picking up the lawyers' out-of-pocket expenses and will not pay for their hourly fees.

The out-of-pocket expenses will likely amount to several thousand dollars, but Goemans said that the supporters have not made any payments yet. He added that the benefactors are longtime friends who share a similar worldview.

"Nobody would get involved if they didn't have a philosophical connection," Goemans said.

Founded by the 1884 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Kamehameha Schools is a $6 billion, tax-exempt charity that educates more than 4,800 native Hawaiian children each year.

Mohica-Cummings, who is not of Hawaiian ancestry, sued the estate earlier this year, alleging that its Hawaiian-preference admission policy violated federal anti-discrimination laws.

Mohica-Cummings' admission to Kamehameha was rescinded after school officials realized he was not of Hawaiian ancestry. In August, U.S. District Judge David Ezra issued a temporary restraining order allowing the boy to attend Kamehameha while the lawsuit was heard.

Last week, Mohica-Cummings reached a settlement that will allow him to remain at the school through the 12th grade if he agrees to drop the lawsuit. The settlement requires the approval of Ezra, who will hold a hearing on the proposal tomorrow.

News of the local businessmen's involvement in the Mohica-Cummings lawsuit generated a harsh reaction from Hawaiian activists.

Vicky Holt-Takamine, president of the 'Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, which helped organize rallies opposing lawsuits that targeted Kamehameha, said that Mohica-Cummings' supporters are part of an effort to overturn the school's admission policy and undermine programs for Hawaiians.

Holt-Takamine noted that Twigg-Smith is one of the 16 plaintiffs in the Arakaki vs. Lingle lawsuit, which seeks to abolish the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway dismissed DHHL from the suit last month but kept alive the portion of the lawsuit naming OHA.

Twigg-Smith, whose family owned the Honolulu Advertiser from 1895 until 1993, when he sold the daily newspaper to Gannett Co. for $250 million, also is a vocal defender of his family's role in the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, she said.

"They built their wealth on the backs of native Hawaiians," said Holt-Takamine, a 1965 Kamehameha Schools graduate. "They have been stealing from us left and right."

Twigg-Smith could not be reached for comment.

Asked for comment on the businessmen's funding of the lawsuit, Kamehameha officials issued a brief statement yesterday saying it is as determined "as ever to defend" its admission policy.

"It is unfortunate that there are those who would use a child to undermine Kamehameha Schools and critically hurt our mission to educate and improve the well-being of Hawaiians," said Ray Soon, the estate's vice president of community relations and communications. "Our work helps not just Hawaiians, but everyone in Hawaii."

Wallace said he received a telephone call from Grant shortly after Kamehameha balked at paying any of Mohica-Cummings' legal expenses. While Wallace said he supports Kamehameha's mission, he noted that he was concerned that the legal costs would be a burden to Mohica-Cummings' mother, Kalena Santos, and that the costs could get in the way of the proposed settlement.

Wallace added that he has known Goemans since the early 1990s, when Wallace was attempting to expand his theater chain in the local market. He said that Goemans was instrumental in getting the state Legislature to hold hearings on the business practices of competitor Consolidated Theatres, which dominated the local market.

Wallace sold most of his interest in his theater chain to a group of mainland investors about two years ago but remains as a consultant.

Growney said Goemans has been a friend for years, and that was a major factor in his decision to help finance Mohica-Cummings' legal costs.

Growney, whose family traces its lineage to Hawaiian alii, said he also did not want the estate's refusal to cover Mohica-Cummings' legal expenses to derail a settlement, he said.

"I hope there is a solution to this short of taking it all the way to the Supreme Court," said Growney, who said he believes that the school is doing a good job of educating Hawaiian children. "I don't think the kid should be a pawn to the working of the courts."

According to Goemans, the benefactors have agreed only to cover court costs, research expenses and travel costs for Mohica-Cummings' legal team. But they will not pay for the bulk of the legal costs, which includes Grant's hourly legal fees, Goemans said.

Grant said his firm will assume the remaining costs of the Mohica-Cummings suit.

Grant is a partner with the high-profile Sacramento, Calif., law firm Sweeney & Grant LLP, which played a key role in the effort to recall California Gov. Gray Davis earlier this year. He also is representing an unidentified non-Hawaiian student who filed a similar lawsuit challenging Kamehameha's admission policy. That lawsuit was dismissed last month by U.S. District Judge Alan Kay and is headed for an appeal before the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Grant said he believes that the appellate courts will overturn Kay's decision and order the estate to cover his client's legal expenses in that case.


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