Judges ruling unties
Bishop Estate must giveBy Jim Witty
the attorney general the minutes
of trustees' meetings since 1993
Circuit Judge Kevin Chang yesterday ordered Bishop Estate trustees to comply with a state subpoena and turn over all nonprivileged documents to the attorney general by week's end.
Chang will determine whether portions of Bishop Estate trustees' minutes since January 1993 should be kept from public view. Trustees have until Monday to submit any portion of the minutes they believe contain proprietary or confidential information so Chang can decide what information, if any, can be used by Attorney General Margery Bronster but kept from the public.
Retired Judge Walter Heen, a critic of the trustees, said the ruling unties Bronster's hands and should speed up the investigation.
The attorney general is investigating trustees' management of the charitable estate and allegations they've breached their fiduciary duties.
Bishop Estate filed a motion for a blanket protective order last month to prevent public disclosure of the minutes. Bronster sought an order to compel Bishop Estate to comply with the subpoena.
Both sides in the wrangling over one of several subpoenas issued by Bronster claimed victory yesterday.
Bronster lauded Chang's ruling, claiming it should add to the momentum of the investigation.
"The judge refused to grant the blanket protective order," said Bronster. "With respect to most of the documents, I think we should be getting most of them by Friday. . . . It's very important that the judge recognized that this court and not the probate court is the appropriate court to rule on these issues. This is a valid subpoena as part of a valid investigation. I think it's clear that this judge is going to allow us to conduct our investigation."
Bishop Estate attorney Bill McCorriston also praised the decision.
"I'm very happy," said McCorriston. "The judge was very conservative and circumspect. He agreed with the basic proposition that there is a category of documents that are confidential . . . It's a great day for not only Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate but the people of Hawaii. The courts are not moved by media lynching of trustees."
McCorriston reiterated that the trustees have always been willing to turn over the documents if they're subject to confidentiality guidelines. He declined to say what portion of the minutes would be submitted to Chang for review.
During the hearing, McCorriston said trustees want to protect documents dealing with personnel matters, contracts with confidentiality clauses, information about business contracts, appraisals and investment advice.
He argued that Bishop Estate should not be held to a "heightened standard" and should be granted the same protection of confidential and proprietary information that private businesses routinely receive.
He also claimed the subpoena lacks specifics.
Bronster labeled Bishop Estate motions as "a blunderbuss bunch of objections" and characterized the issue as a simple one: failure to comply with a valid subpoena.
She added that, thanks to Chang's decision, any efforts to block subpoenas in the future may be rendered moot.
Heen, a co-author of the "Broken Trust" article that sparked the investigation, predicted the investigation will now begin moving at a faster pace.
"Judge Chang has refused to tie the attorney general's hands," said Heen.
"I think it's a good day for the schools, the pupils, the parents and the administration."
Heen also praised Chang for imposing tight compliance deadlines on the trust.
Echoing his previous criticism of the media, specifically the Star-Bulletin, which published "Broken Trust," McCorriston charged that "certain members of the media have made a decision of character assassination of the trustees and the trustees' lawyers."
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