Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, September 9, 1997

Political choices
for Bishop Estate board

SEN. Daniel Akaka recently said the Hawaii Supreme Court is a necessary buffer in keeping politics out of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate trustee appointments. He accurately described the situation as it should be and as the estate's founder, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, most certainly intended it to be.

The system has become skewed, however, since trustee annual compensation soared beyond the $800,000 level. Hundreds began to covet those jobs and the vast power that goes with them. With that, many of us believe, politicians reached out to capture the system.

Until then the selection process had caused little controversy. For decades the choices were all Caucasian. Then a Hawaiian was chosen, then a Chinese and then a Japanese. The first major Hawaiian activism over appointments came when the court in 1971 selected a Japanese, Matsuo Takabuki, a Nisei politician/developer and World War II veteran.

Takabuki's business acumen made him one of the best financial management trustees ever. After the Takabuki uproar the court turned to Hawaiian appointees but said in 1994 that having Hawaiian blood is not a job requirement.

We have tidbits of "inside information" on how two post-1980 selections were made, thanks to the Aug. 9 "Broken Trust" article, but only snippets and surmises about the rest.

The justices act as individuals. Three votes out of five are all that's needed to make an appointment.

Late in 1982 Associate Justice Herman Lum suggested, with no dissent, that a pending trustee vacancy be filled by a first-ever appointment of a sitting member of the court, Chief Justice William Richardson. An added eyebrow-raising feature was that the justices made an exception to the retire-at-70 rule instituted in 1968 to allow Richardson to serve a full 10 years, until he was 73.

1984 -- While still speaker of the House of Representatives, Henry Peters was chosen, reportedly unanimously.

1989 -- Two justices were for Larry Mehau, a controversial Big Island rancher and political insider. He couldn't get a third vote, however. The court then turned to Oswald Stender, the first-ever Kamehameha Schools graduate, and the only present trustee with previous estate management experience. "We got lucky," an unnamed former justice said.

1993 -- The first court dominated by appointees of Gov. John Waihee seated Richard Wong, former Senate president, and Lokelani Lindsey, who then was superintendent of public schools on Maui, where she also had run for mayor. The appointments were announced jointly late in December 1992.

1994 -- After Waihee took himself out of contention late in the process, the job went to Gerard Jervis, a Waihee business associate. Earlier, when Jervis was a judicial selection commissioner, "Broken Trust" authors say, he had pushed colleagues to go along with Waihee and recommend Robert Klein for a Supreme Court vacancy even though Klein had not been on the original list submitted to the governor. Klein got the job.

THE trustees all have appointments running to their 70th birthdays: Oct. 17, 2001, for Stender; June 10, 2003, for Wong; Dec. 11, 2008, for Lindsey; Feb. 4, 2011, for Peters; Dec. 18, 2018, for Jervis.

Chief Justice Ronald Moon has hinted the justices could consider capping some terms sooner than their present expirations, something never done before in the 113-year history of the estate. Appointments were for life until 1968.

Removal by the justices is another matter, also never done before. Moon has expressed willingness to try to improve the selection process in the future, perhaps after a public weighing of alternatives.

Bishop Estate Archive

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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