Change wanted in
trustees, not will
Critics of Bishop EstateBy Jim Witty
are prepared to press their case
in court, a lawyer says
Na Pua a Ke Ali'i Pauahi, a group of Kamehameha Schools students, teachers and alumni, will be back -- if it has to -- to press charges of mismanagement by Bishop Estate trustees.
"If (fact-finder) Patrick Yim doesn't come up with the information or use the information appropriately or if the court doesn't use his information appropriately, we'll come into court again," said Beadie Kanahele Dawson, the group's attorney. "And we won't hold back on information. We'll take what we know and what we supplement in our own investigation, and we will ask the court to move forward."
She said many people have come to Na Pua leaders with allegations ranging from poor morale within the schools to patronage contracts, threats, failure to follow proper bid procedures and using trust resources for personal purposes.
Trouble is, said Dawson, some have taken their charges to Yim, but many haven't because they're afraid of reprisal.
"People are coming to us, and they have years of frustration bottled up inside them, and they need to pour it out on someone," she said. "I want them to pour it out on people who can actually do something."
She points to the court order that compels Yim to keep conversations and documents confidential.
"But for many of them, that is not enough," she said.
Bishop Estate spokeswoman Elisa Yadao said the trustees are encouraging participation by those who have information to advance the investigations.
"It's been made absolutely clear that the trustees are committed to people participating in the fact-finding process," Yadao said. "They have said there are going to be no reprisals for that."
Dawson claims that the students, teachers and alumni of Kamehameha Schools are the actual beneficiaries because the trust "is 100 percent centered on the delivery of education to the recipients."
"You have your students who are in the process of receiving those benefits, your parents who are receiving those benefits and the alums who have received them and are the receptacle of those benefits forever," Dawson said.
Attorney General Margery Bronster has said she represents the public, whom she broadly defines as beneficiaries, in probing the trust. Bishop Estate doesn't recognize Na Pua's standing as a beneficiary.
"It's correct for her that she represents everyone," said Dawson. "But we are entitled to our own representation. This group -- students, parents and alums -- are very different from (the public at large). The attorney general may not want to do the things that we do. She may want to change the will. We do not."
Despite charges that judicial selection of Bishop Estate trustees carries a political taint, Na Pua members say they take the princess' will literally.
"We support the retention of the will in all aspects including the selection of the trustees by the justices in their individual capacities," said Dawson. "With safeguards so that pressure cannot be borne at any level."
The group favors legislation that would make pressuring a justice, governor or lawmaker on judicial selection a felony offense.
Dawson was interviewed by the justices as a candidate in 1992 for one of two trustee positions. Lokelani Lindsey and Richard Wong were ultimately chosen to fill the two slots.
Na Pua also advocates convincing prospective trustees to accept $1 a year to do the job. (Trustees of the $10 billion charitable trust earned $843,109 in 1996.)
While the controversy is between Na Pua and the estate, Dawson said members would fight vigorously if the Internal Revenue Service threatened its tax-exempt status.
"If push comes to shove and the IRS becomes an issue, we will jump over and fight like mad with Bishop Estate," she said. No question about it."
Dawson stressed it's far from being simply a Hawaiian concern.
"Ten billion dollars in the state of Hawaii affects virtually everybody," she said. "Their assets have an enormous effect on the average citizen. Whether they patronize a store on Bishop Estate land or own a home on it or are employed there, the reach of $10 billion goes a long way."
Despite the turmoil, Dawson says she's optimistic Kamehameha Schools and Bishop Estate will emerge intact. "I know that down the line, we're going to have a better school, a better estate, and we're going to have better trustees," she said. "How we get there is up for discussion."
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