The attorney general is worriedBy Mike Yuen
that this could turn into
a "war in the courts"
Bishop Estate officials are stonewalling the state's month-old investigation into the $10 billion charitable trust, although they earlier promised to cooperate, Attorney General Margery Bronster said.
Estate lawyers are trying to block her subpoena for minutes of trustee meeting minutes from the past four years, Bronster said.
A letter Bronster received yesterday from attorney Robert B. Graham Jr. said the estate was fighting the subpoena because the attorney general could be seeking information on confidential business dealings that might be publicly disclosed.
"Again, we emphasize that our purpose is to protect the estate information from unwarranted disclosure to third parties," Graham wrote. "It is not our purpose to interfere with your lawful investigation."
Estate spokeswoman Elisa Yadao insisted that estate officials are not stonewalling.
Attorney General Margery Bronster.
But Bronster said Graham and Nathan Aipa, another estate attorney, had earlier agreed to honor the subpoena. They all agreed, Bronster said, that if Bishop Estate officials had any particular confidentiality concerns regarding portions of subpoenaed material, only those portions would be withheld and they would be addressed later.
"Our goal," Bronster said, "was to try to pursue these issues promptly and efficiently so that we would not be in a situation where we spend all our time fighting over pieces of paper.
"What I am concerned about is that this is going to become a war in the courts, a war in which the estate is going to want to know everything we're looking into and why, before we get the opportunity to actually pursue these things. You cannot run an investigation that way."
What Bronster described as a turn for the worse came on the same day Gov. Ben Cayetano released Bronster's preliminary report, which Cayetano received two weeks ago.
Bronster said: "I was always concerned that (estate officials) were trying to determine what it was I would be investigating. They told me that if I wanted to tell them what it was that I was looking into, they would then try to help me out; but if I would not tell them what I wanted to investigate and why, they might have some concerns.
"After our conversation, I explained to them the need for independence, the need not to have my hands tied in terms of my investigation. They agreed to give us the cooperation that we needed and they agreed to give us the information.
"In fact, I thought it was going to be forthcoming and then I received the letter which makes clear that that's not going to be the case."
Cynthia Quinn, Bronster's special assistant, added: "They will fight every move we make."
University of Hawaii law Professor Randall Roth, one of the five authors of the opinion piece that was published Aug. 9 in the Star-Bulletin, said: "I think it would be in the trustees' best interest to cooperate. Their failure to do so thus far makes me wonder if they have any kind of response to these serious allegations."
The allegations raised by Roth and his co-authors, which caused Cayetano to order Bronster to launch her investigation, include claims that the trustee selection process is politicized and that trustees may not be fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.
Bronster said a lengthy court fight with Bishop Estate would not affect the outcome of her probe.
"The information is something we're entitled to," she said. "I don't think it is something that should stop us."
Bishop Estate Archive