Monday, December 22, 1997

Justices made correct
decision on estate role

THE historic decision of the justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court to end their selection of the Bishop Estate trustees was necessary to prevent further damage to the court's reputation and ability to perform its functions. The criticism of the justices' role expressed in the "Broken Trust" essay in the Star-Bulletin Aug. 9 was devastating, particularly because it came from two highly respected judges, Samuel King and Walter Heen, who are fully acquainted with both the Hawaii political and judicial systems. King noted that he had proposed this change as long ago as 1971, before anyone could have foreseen the crisis the estate now faces.

Several trustee selections made by the justices have been lamentable because political motivation was evident -- on the current board, those of Richard Wong, Henry Peters, Lokelani Lindsey and Gerard Jervis. Because the justices are appointed by the governor, the potential for abuse was evident, and abuses apparently occurred.

Moreover, the Bishop Estate has grown into a mammoth operation with numerous activities that could result in litigation before the Supreme Court. The impropriety of the justices hearing cases involving trustees they had appointed is obvious, forcing them to recuse themselves. The justices correctly concluded that the only sensible course of action was to withdraw from the selection role. As they declared, "to continue involvement would promote distrust and cynicism, undermining public trust in the judiciary." The decision was long overdue. Had it been made earlier, serious damage to the estate and to the court itself could have been avoided.

Some of the critics of the estate among Hawaiian leaders are disappointed in the justices' decision, feeling that they had developed a constructive relationship recently with them in a series of meetings. But such improvement comes too late. The relationship of the justices and the trustees has become untenable as the importance of the estate has grown. That relationship has been irreparably damaged by the justices' blunders in making appointments that bore a political taint.

The result of the decision appears to be to transfer decisions on selection of trustees to the probate court, which oversees trusts and wills. The probate function is usually rotated among the Circuit Court judges. In view of the importance of the Bishop Estate, it is essential that an advisory panel be assembled to make recommendations to the probate court when a vacancy on the board occurs. As Governor Cayetano observed, the selection "cannot be left to one judge."

Despite the difficulty of the task, the community can expect that as a result of this historic decision in the future the trustees of the Bishop Estate will be selected on the basis of competence and dedication to the welfare of the Hawaiian community -- not their political connections.

Meanwhile investigations of the current trustees continue. The justices' decision has no bearing on their fate.

Bishop Estate Archive

Kamehameha Schools

CONTRARY to the critical remarks of Bishop Estate trustee Lokelani Lindsey, graduates of the Kamehameha Schools are doing well academically as measured by scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), the leading national college admissions test.

Lindsey charged that SAT scores for 52 percent of Kamehameha's 1997 graduates were not high enough to gain admission to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. But as the Star-Bulletin's Debra Barayuga reported, the UH director of admissions says Kamehameha has in recent years been the largest supplier of students for UH among private schools in Hawaii. The director, David Robb, said difficulty in gaining admission to UH is true of many students, not just Kamehameha graduates, because UH has become more selective, similar to other research universities.

The 1996 Kamehameha Secondary School Portfolio reports that since 1988 Kamehameha students' SAT verbal scores have been at or higher than the national average, improving from an estimated 470 in 1981 to 516 last year. Over the same period, improvement in SAT mathematics scores was even greater -- from 489 to 552, well above the national average.

What's more, since 1981, the percentage of graduates attending four-year colleges has increased 20 percent to about 74 percent of the class of 1996. Seventeen percent attended two-year institutions, while the rest entered the work force, military service or other activity.

It used to be that Kamehameha Schools were criticized for turning out mainly blue-collar workers. Clearly that is no longer the case. Considerable progress has been made in raising educational standards on Kamehameha Heights. Despite the turmoil surrounding the Bishop Estate trustees and the management of the schools, that progress must be sustained.

Bishop Estate Archive

Immigration law

A law aimed at preventing abuses of the immigration and welfare systems has just gone into effect. Under it, U.S. residents who want to bring foreign relatives into the country must agree to accept responsibility to repay the government for public benefits the new immigrants receive. The sponsors must also prove that their income is at least 25 percent above the federal poverty level.

This will discourage people from bringing their relatives in and putting them on the welfare rolls -- a practice that has generated understandable anger from taxpayers. The income requirement is intended to ensure that the sponsor is financially capable of supporting the person being admitted. This is entirely reasonable.

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