CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Clyde Matsui is a Honolulu lawyer known for his ability to act as mediator or arbitrator in major civil cases.
Rivals in dispute summon Matsui
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He might be the most influential person you've never heard of.
Behind the scenes and with little fanfare, one of Hawaii's top mediators has settled hundreds of court fights, including several major lawsuits.
Clyde Matsui helped settle the bitter dispute between the state and former Bishop Estate trustees in 2000, and mediated the 2006 settlement that resulted in the purchase and preservation of Waimea Valley.
In the growing field of mediation and arbitration, Matsui brings to the table a sharp sense of the key issues and works to get the parties to settle without costly and time-consuming litigation.
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Honolulu mediator Clyde Matsui was among a roomful of lawyers in an antitrust case when a mainland attorney suggested that one reason they were having problems was that Matsui did not know what the lawyer meant when he used the term "oligopoly."
Education: Lunalilo Elementary, Iolani High School (1965 graduate), University of Hawaii and Pacific University (1969 graduate, Bachelor of Science in business administration), Hastings College of Law (1973 graduate)
Career: Private practice -- Jenks Kidwell Goodsill Anderson & Quinn (1973-1974), Kobayashi Watanabe Sugita & Kawashima (1974-1980), Law Offices of Clyde Matsui (1981-1982), Matsui Chung Sumida & Tsuchiyama (1982-now)
Wife: Joanne, since 1981
Hobbies: Avid golfer, 10.8 handicap; avid University of Hawaii fan, especially football; raising their beagle, Max
Quotation: "To me, to be a good mediator, you don't need intellect. You don't need legal scholarship. What you need is a good sense of how the world turns, and perseverance. If the parties feel that you're giving up on them, they'll never settle. I never try to give up on any case."
Honolulu lawyer Clyde Matsui has been involved in close to 1,000 arbitration and mediation cases. Here are some of the major ones:
» BISHOP ESTATE TRUSTEES. In 2000, Matsui, along with David Fairbanks and Jim Duffy, now a Hawaii Supreme Court associate justice, mediated the settlement that ended a three-year legal dispute of the state's lawsuit against five former Bishop Estate trustees. The settlement called for the estate's insurance coverage to pay $25 million, including more than $15 million to the charitable trust.
» GASOLINE ANTITRUST. The state alleged Hawaii's major gasoline suppliers and retailers violated price-fixing and other violations under the federal antitrust laws. In 2002, Matsui was the federal mediator in the settlement that resulted in $20 million going to the state.
» WAIMEA VALLEY. In 2006, Matsui was the mediator for a settlement that led to the $14 million purchase of Waimea Valley from the landowner. The deal preserves the 1,875-acre valley. It called for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to get title of the land and the Audubon Society to operate the Waimea Valley Audubon Center in the valley. The money would come from the Army ($3.5 million), OHA ($2.9 million), the state Department of Land and Natural Resources ($1.6 million), the Audubon Society ($1 million) and the city ($5.1 million).
Matsui asked the attorney whether he meant it in the context of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Section 2, as it was used against railroad companies and later the cigarette industry when six or fewer sellers supply 75 percent of more of the market.
"Is that what you're talking about?" Matsui asked.
The lawyer cleared his throat. "Yes, sir."
Matsui then told the lawyer he wanted to say three things so they would not get distracted again: First, Hawaii has law books; second, Hawaii will soon get computers.
"And No. 3," Matsui recalls that he told the lawyer, "you condescend to me one more time, you're leaving this process, and it might not be through the door."
Matsui, 60, a lawyer who specialized in civil cases, is regarded in the legal community as one of Hawaii's top mediators and arbitrators who are part of a growing industry to help resolve court cases and avoid costly and oftentimes emotionally draining litigation.
His detractors suggest that he can be too blunt and too impatient, but Matsui has handled hundreds of cases and his track record shows major successes.
Matsui's supporters believe that he is effective because he is bright, does his homework, knows how to close deals and focuses on the critical issues. Some also see similarities with Wallace Fujiyama, a prominent Honolulu lawyer who died in 1994 and was known for his unabashed support of local culture and local people.
"He certainly is a local boy, but, like Wally, he's a very sophisticated local boy," said Honolulu lawyer David Fairbanks, also considered one of the best mediators and arbitrators in town.
"I think he is very loyal to the local practice of law. That's not to say people from the mainland are treated differently or less fairly, but Clyde is mindful of his roots and what we have here."
In a recent interview, Matsui acknowledged that he strongly supports Hawaii's lawyers.
He said he finds some pleasure in deflating egos of mainland attorneys who think they are more worldly and wise than Hawaii lawyers "stuck in the middle of the Pacific with law degrees from correspondence schools."
"I love when they come and I find one opportunity to dissuade them from that notion," Matsui said.
At the same time, though, Matsui said the mainland lawyer in the "oligopoly" anecdote later became the most helpful in getting the case settled.
It is no coincidence that Matsui's style reminds some of Fujiyama.
Fujiyama coached Matsui when he was 10 to 12 and played on a youth baseball team. Matsui said he talked a lot, and Fujiyama gave him the nickname "Lippy." He said during trips to the mainland, Fujiyama would insist that Matsui sit next to him and would talk throughout the flight.
"He contributed a lot to my formative years," Matsui said.
His parents, Jiro and the late Betty Matsui, also were huge influences with their "old school" philosophy. Although the father worked as a state research analyst and his mother as a secretary, the money had to be stretched to support Matsui, his two brothers and his grandparents, all living together in McCully.
Still, the parents, like many of their generation, valued education highly and sacrificed to send Matsui to Iolani School.
"They teach you not to disappoint them, no matter what you do. You don't shame the family in a small community like McCully. I guess through the years, you kind of learn what they taught you is not to disappoint yourself."
Matsui said he knows Fujiyama had pride of being raised humble, "local style."
"And I do, too," Matsui said. "I cherish that more than anything."
Matsui's first major mediation led to the settlement of the bitter dispute between the state and the former Bishop Estate trustees in 2000. Matsui's fellow mediators were David Fairbanks and Jim Duffy, now an associate justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Other major cases followed. Today, Matsui's law firm has eight lawyers.
Matsui said he currently has about 14 pending arbitration and mediation cases, including one involving a major Mapunapuna landowner suing the city and state over the constant flooding in the area.
The case reveals a commonsense approach Matsui is known to use in settling cases.
Matsui said the parties agreed to deal with the causes -- the tides, the overflow from Mapunapuna Stream and an abandoned waterline that was not plugged. Once the problems are fixed, they can start figuring out liability and money, Matsui said.
For the landowner, the sublessees will suffer less damage, and the property will be worth more, Matsui said. For the city and state, the flooding will end, and the repairs will cap any further liability.
The repair work will begin shortly, he said.
Matsui said this strategy was reached at their first meeting.
"The whole point is, you put the fix in front of the settlement rather than go mindlessly into the settlement of the case," Matsui said.
Matsui believes that as litigation becomes more expensive, mediation becomes the only "viable alternative."
He recalled that he settled one dispute between a private trust and its lessee, but not before each side spent "several million dollars" in attorneys' fees.
"I firmly believe that (mediation) will be the most important -- and greatly beneficial -- change in American jurisprudence since the early days of common law," he said.
While mediation is a way to save time and money, the parties will still need lawyers.
But Matsui said they do not necessarily have to hire mainland counsel.
"I get very irritated when people go for legal services in Hawaii and say, 'Ho, this is a big case. We better get a mainland law firm.'
"That's rubbish," Matsui said.
"To me, the lawyers we have here are exceptional, far better than big-firm lawyers who cannot see the end of the lawsuit and are preoccupied with the fighting."
It was during that "oligopoly" antitrust case, Matsui also recalled, that the mainland lawyers sat at the table, and their Hawaii co-counsels sat behind them along the walls.
"That kind of bothered me," Matsui said.
He told the group the local counsel should sit at the table and that the mainland lawyers should sit behind them.
When someone took it as a joke and laughed, Matsui told the lawyers he was serious.
"I deal with the (Hawaii lawyers) every day. I deal with you only when you fly into town, and then you fly back to wherever you came from and then I got to deal with (the Hawaii lawyers)," he said.
"So I want you guys to switch places."
With their mainland counterparts behind them unable to see their faces, the Hawaii lawyers sat at the table.
"They all had this Cheshire cat grin," Matsui recalled.
Matsui and mentor reconciled over a drink
Honolulu attorney Clyde Matsui had a falling out with the late Wallace Fujiyama that lasted more than a decade.
After graduating from Hastings College of Law, where he excelled as associate editor of the college's law review, Matsui declined to join Fujiyama's law firm.
Fujiyama, a prominent lawyer, was an outspoken advocate of local values and culture who used to visit Hastings and tell the Hawaii students to return and help the local people.
He also was Matsui's youth baseball coach.
Matsui instead joined a major downtown law firm.
Matsui said they did not talk for 11 years until a chance meeting in a bar. When Matsui was returning from the restroom, Fujiyama saw him.
"Eh, eh, come here," Fujiyama told him. "Sit down."
Matsui sat down.
"Eh, I hear you doing well," Fujiyama said.
"You must be talking to my mother," Matsui replied, "but I'm doing OK."
"No, no, no," Fujiyama said. "I hear you doing well."
Fujiyama then bought Matsui a drink.
"That's how we stated talking again, but it took 11 years," Matsui said.