Friday, March 13, 1998

Judges named
to preside in
Bishop matters

The chief justice's move
to pick the lower court judges
pleases Bronster

By Rick Daysog

Five state Circuit Court judges will pinch-hit for Hawaii's Supreme Court justices in cases involving the Bishop Estate.

Chief Justice Ronald Moon yesterday afternoon named a new line-up -- Circuit judges Wendell Huddy, John McConnell, George Matsuoka, Ronald Ibarra and Dan Kochi -- to serve as substitute judges for a series of appeals relating to the Bishop Estate.

Moon's announcement came several hours after the justices voluntarily recused themselves on Bishop Estate matters.

Under Moon's order, the lower court judges likely will hear current and future appeals by the Bishop Estate on subpoenas issued by state Attorney General Margery Bronster, who is investigating allegations of misconduct by trustees of the estate.

But it is not clear whether the substitute justices will conduct hearings on other litigation unrelated to Bronster's investigation, said James Branham, staff attorney for the high court.

The high court occasionally hears appeals on land-use and other business litigation relating to the Bishop Estate.

Bronster, who is in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for immediate comment. But a spokeswoman said Bronster was pleased that the judges decided to recuse themselves and appoint substitute judges.

New JusticesNew Justices
New JusticesNew JusticesNew Justices

In January, Bronster filed court papers asking the high court to recuse themselves to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Bronster said the state was investigating the trustees' selection process and may have to subpoena individual justices who, until recently, had selected Bishop Estate trustees.

Bronster followed that up this month by asking the Supreme Court to expedite its ruling on her recusal motion. The expedited motion was denied.

"We're just pleased that the Supreme Court chose to do the right thing, and we hope now that the matters can be handed expeditiously," said Cynthia Quinn, special assistant to Bronster.

The recusal marks the first by the Supreme Court since 1995, when the five Circuit Court judges heard the appeal of Edward Shawn Villeza, convicted of manslaughter in the 1989 death of his mother, Charlotte.

Villeza's defense attorneys at the time questioned the status of then-Circuit Judge Daniel Heely, who sentenced Villeza.

At the time, Heely was acting as the court's administrator as well as a circuit judge, and Villeza's attorneys argued that the state Constitution barred such dual office holdings.

An estate spokesman had no immediate comment on yesterday's decision.

But William McCorriston, the estate's attorney, said he was disappointed by the Supreme Court's recusal, arguing that the estate is being denied its constitutional right to justice.

McCorriston blamed the high court's decision on "hysteria" generated by the media and orchestrated by Bronster and critics of the estate.

He added that the state's investigation into the Bishop Estate was politically motivated by the Cayetano administration, which wants to divert attention from the state's economic woes.

McCorriston speculated that political insiders whom he declined to identify have promised Bronster a federal judgeship for her work on the estate.

"The good old boys who are promoting this investigation against the trustees have given her a promise of a reward at the end of the day," McCorriston said. "In my judgment, that reward is a federal judgeship."

Quinn called McCorriston's remarks "a cheap shot" intended to divert attention from the issues. Others have noted that Bronster's name has surfaced occasionally since 1994 for openings on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

During a 25-minute news conference yesterday, McCorriston also faulted the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which released an advisory opinion Wednesday recommending that justices recuse themselves. The Supreme Court asked the commission for an advisory opinion on Feb. 10.

The commission's seven-page opinion said there is no legal or ethical reason for the high court's recusal, but it also said the justices should recuse themselves, given the unique circumstances.

McCorriston likened the opinion to that of a Little League baseball coach who gives his players the wrong advice.

"There's been some hard balls thrown at the court by very wild pitchers, and the coach -- in this case the commission -- has told the Supreme Court that instead of standing in the batter's box, bail out," McCorriston said.

"That's against every instinct that is correct. You should do what is right, not what is popular."

In a related matter, attorneys for the state yesterday interviewed Gladys Brandt, former Kamehameha Schools for Girls principal and chairwoman of the 1994 blue-ribbon panel of community leaders organized to screen potential Bishop Estate trustee candidates.

University of Hawaii law Professor Randall Roth -- who along with Brandt and three other prominent local leaders co-authored the "Broken Trust" article that prompted the state's investigation -- was questioned about the blue-ribbon panel's communications with the Supreme Court justices.

According to the "Broken Trust" article, the Supreme Court justices refused to rely on a list of trustee candidates recommended by the panel, choosing Gerard Jervis instead.

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