Kamehameha Schools still faces challenges a decade after reform
The private schools continue to face legal challenges a decade after an essay published in the Star-Bulletin resulted in an overhaul of what then was called the Bishop Estate.
TEN YEARS have elapsed since the Star-Bulletin published an essay submitted by five distinguished community leaders
challenging the way trustees were selected for the Bishop Estate and how they operated the hallowed institution. The estate has been revamped and renamed Kamehameha Schools, and its trustees no longer have the look of what the Wall Street Journal described as "shell-shocked lottery winners." The estate has continued to be embroiled in lawsuits and that is not likely to change anytime soon.
Discontent with management of the schools became noticeably public on May 15, 1997, when more than 500 members of the Kamehameha ohana -- mostly parents and alumni -- marched from the Royal Mausoleum to Bishop Estate headquarters at Kawaiahao Plaza to present a list of concerns to the trustees. The essay, published Aug. 9, 1997, expanded the criticism to the trustees' pay and politicization of their selection.
But the controversy that triggered the essay had been germinating for years; an outgrowth of greed arising from a 1984 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding Hawaii's 1967 Land Reform Act. Until that time, more than 80 percent of Hawaii's land had been owned by fewer than 40 landowners. The ruling allowed homeowners to buy land they had been leasing beneath their houses.
MORE THAN 14,600 homeowners did so, and proceeds totaling nearly $2 billion within a few years poured into the Bishop Estate, which had owned three-fourths of Oahu's lease lots. Much of it went into the pockets of the trustees, who by state law had been paid a percentage of the estate's income.
Trustees had been selected by justices of the state Supreme Court, which had turned the selection process into a political lottery. They had included a former state Senate president, speaker of the House and a former chief justice.
The essay, titled "Broken Trust," was co-authored by Randall Roth, a trust laws professor at the University of Hawaii law school; Samuel P. King, a U.S. District Court judge; Walter Heen, a retired state appellate judge; the late Gladys Brandt, a former Kamehameha Schools principal; and the late Msgr. Charles Kekumano, a Catholic priest. With the exception of Roth, the authors were of Hawaiian ancestry.
They called for changes in the way justices were chosen, an attorney general's investigation of trustee conduct and repeal of the law allowing exorbitant trustee compensation. A probate judge now properly chooses the trustees based on a screening committee's recommendation, and they are paid, by law, "reasonable" compensation.
AN ATTORNEY GENERAL'S investigation opened by then-Gov. Ben Cayetano ended in criminal charges, which were dropped, and a civil court settlement. The reconstituted Bishop Estate caused the Internal Revenue Service to drop a threat to end the estate's tax- exempt status.
In recent years, the Kamehameha Schools has fought legal challenges of the Hawaiians-only admission policy. The policy was narrowly upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, but the estate settled the case out of court as the Supreme Court was about to decide whether to hear the appeal.
The settlement did not end the controversy over the admissions policy. A Honolulu lawyer says he plans to file a new lawsuit challenging the estate on constitutional grounds as well as violation of the 1867 Civil Rights Act, which the settled lawsuit alleged that it violated.