Lawyer's work opened OHA voting


POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

John W. Goemans achieved a success few attorneys reach when the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed his stand against discrimination in the precedent-setting Rice v. Cayetano case.

But Goemans was vilified by Hawaiian sovereignty advocates for that case, which opened voting for Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees to all voters, and a subsequent suit challenging Kamehameha Schools' Hawaiians-only admission policy.

In private practice on his own with limited resources, he challenged the well-funded opponents because of “;his big passion for civil rights and constitutional law,”; said his son, Edward. “;He believed there should be equal treatment for Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians—everyone should have a fair shot.”;

Goemans, 75, died yesterday at his sister's home in Solvang, Calif. He had pancreatic cancer.

“;He was a one-man show. He was dedicated to the law,”; said Sally Rice of Waimea, Hawaii. “;He was very concerned about the native Hawaiian entitlements and their long-term effects on the people of this state, and that's why he took on these lawsuits.”;

She said the challenge to the OHA Hawaiians-only balloting “;was John's idea. He saw the issue and looked for the plaintiff.”; Her former husband, Big Island kamaaina rancher Harold “;Freddy”; Rice, signed on.

Goemans was born in Milwaukee, and came to Hawaii after earning a law degree at the University of Virginia. He was a college roommate of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and they remained close friends through the years, said his son.

Goemans served a term in the state House and ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House.

His suit challenging the Kamehameha Schools' admission policy was before the high court when the plaintiff, an unnamed student, agreed to a settlement in 2007. Goemans revealed that the school sought the $7 million settlement, despite a confidential agreement, angering his co-counsel, a California attorney, as well as the school. Both filed motions against him in court.

He is survived by son Edward Kula of Texas; daughter Kara of Mill Valley, Calif.; brother Ron Mayo of San Diego; and sisters Peg Goemans of Solvang, Calif., and Patty Bulger of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Services will be held in California. His ashes will be scattered in Hawaii at a later date.

The family suggests that in lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care, 222 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.