Estate wants minutes
withheld from public

Bishop lawyers have filed a petition
to keep estate minutes from being exposed

By Jim Witty

Bishop Estate says it's willing to give the attorney general's office any information needed for its investigation into the $10 billion charitable trust, proprietary or not.

But it doesn't want the public to get ahold of it.

In a petition filed in Circuit Court yesterday, Bishop Estate lawyers are seeking a protective order preventing public disclosure of minutes to trustees meetings since January 1993. Attorney General Margery Bronster issued a subpoena for those documents last Friday.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Oct. 2 before Judge Kevin Chang. "Our concern is what happens to estate records after they are produced for the attorney general," said attorney Bruce Graham.

"This is not to deny it to the attorney general but to the media and the interested public.

"I don't think you'd find a business in the state that would be willing to open up all of its records and files to the media."

He said confidential employee contracts, third-party contracts, agreements, studies and appraisals are examples of the kind of information the estate wants to keep under wraps.

"You could imagine that converting lessees in a condominium would love to have access to the estate's internal appraisals as to what the estate thinks that land is worth," Graham said. "We think that's a legitimate business record that we should be able to withhold."

But Cynthia Quinn, the attorney general's special assistant, said she sees the estate's latest legal move as a delaying tactic.

"This is a clear indication that they aren't cooperating," she said. "The attorney general can't conduct an investigation with her hands tied.... This only indicates it may take longer than anticipated."

Graham said Bishop Estate wants Bronster to follow a set of guidelines developed by the probate court that gives the attorney general and court-appointed masters full access to its records but precludes their publication. But, said Graham, Bronster found that unacceptable.

"She suggested that if she subpoenaed these records, they would be protected," said Graham. "We've researched the law. We don't find that they are."

He claimed a court order is the estate's only recourse.

Quinn said the decade-old guidelines don't apply to this type of investigation, which is much broader in scope. And she said that information garnered during the investigation is not public record.

"I don't know what they're worried about," she said. "We're investigating individual actions (by trustees) as alleged. We aren't investigating the estate. We're there to protect the estate."

Graham said everything that the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop requires be made public is currently being released.

That's contrary to allegations being investigated by the attorney general's office that the estate has failed to publish an annual inventory of property and investments in a Honolulu newspaper.

Graham said he's seeking a written agreement from Bronster that she won't publicize the sensitive information. Meanwhile, Bishop Estate will only release what's already been made public, he said.

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