Tuesday, December 1, 1998

Matsumoto claims
endorsement error,
denies trustee bias

Peters and Wong want the
court-appointed master ousted

By Rick Daysog


The Bishop Estate's court-appointed master, whose review of the estate's operations harshly criticized trustees' management policies, has denied that he was biased against board members of the multibillion-dollar charity.

In court papers filed yesterday, attorney Colbert Matsumoto said it was error that his name appeared on an Oct. 16 campaign letter that endorsed Gov. Ben Cayetano for initiating the state's investigation of the Bishop Estate. Matsumoto argued that his political support for Cayetano is not grounds for disqualification.

Bishop Estate trustees Richard Wong and Henry Peters are seeking Matsumoto's disqualification as master, saying the endorsement letter shows that Matsumoto has not been fair or impartial in his review of the estate.

The two trustees have said the state's investigation of the Bishop Estate is politically motivated and was designed to boost Cayetano's re-election efforts. Cayetano defeated Maui Mayor Linda Lingle last month month by a narrow 5,000-vote margin.

Yesterday, Peters, who supported Lingle, filed court papers accusing Matsumoto of working with Attorney General Margery Bronster to "attack, destroy and overthrow" Bishop Estate's trustees.

He is asking the court to bar Matsumoto from any further proceedings involving the Bishop Estate.

A hearing on the matter is set for Jan. 8.

Yesterday, Matsumoto argued that the disqualification motions are largely based on a draft of an endorsement letter for Cayetano that campaign officials mistakenly sent out to members of the Hawaii State Bar Association. Matsumoto said he agreed to endorse the governor only if the letter didn't include a statement or reference to the Bishop Estate controversy.

But the lawyer who wrote the letter, John Komeiji, incorrectly put the master's name on a draft that included a reference to the Bishop Estate controversy, Matsumoto and Komeiji said in affidavits.

Matsumoto added that Wong was long aware of his friendship and support of Cayetano but expressed no concern during an August 1997 conversation about the topic. Matsumoto's ties with Cayetano date back to 1979, when Cayetano headed the Senate Ways and Means Committee and Matsumoto worked for the committee as staff counsel. Wong at the time was the Senate president.

Based on the master's report for the estate's 1994-1996 fiscal years, Bronster is seeking the temporary removal of Wong, Peters, Lokelani Lindsey and Gerard Jervis from the estate's five-member board, saying the trustees withheld hundreds of millions of dollars from the estate-run Kamehameha Schools and threatened the estate's tax-exempt status.

Meanwhile, the attorney general's office criticized Wong's disqualification motion as a delay tactic designed to "slow the wheels of justice." Hugh Jones, deputy attorney general, called Wong's motion "frivolous" and noted that it was filed on same morning of a hearing on an attorney general's petition to temporarily remove all five Bishop Estate trustees.

Jones argued Matsumoto has been thorough and fair in his review of the estate. He said Wong, and not Matsumoto, should be sanctioned by the court.

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