Court motions for symphony delayed


POSTED: Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The fate of the financially beleaguered Honolulu Symphony is up in the air.

First-day motions were postponed yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court after Judge Lloyd King recused himself because he has a relative who is a member of the musicians' association. If the motions are not settled outside court, they will be rescheduled before Judge Robert Faris in January upon his return from vacation.

The Honolulu Symphony Society filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, citing debts ranging from $1 million to $10 million and more than 200 creditors.

On Friday the society also filed motions seeking to pay two weeks of December wages to society staff, including its executive director, Majken Mechling, and that the amounts be placed under seal.

David Farmer, an attorney representing the Musician's Association of Hawaii Local 677, objected to the motions.

“;Our musicians are still employees,”; Farmer said. “;They're getting squat, and they are in the same priority position as the employees.”;

Keeping the amounts owed to the staff under seal, according to Farmer, is also unfair to the musicians' union, which has been kept in the dark most of the time.

The musicians, for example, were never informed that concerts would be canceled until June 2010, according to court documents.

“;Number one, this is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, not General Motors,”; Farmer said. “;This cloak of darkness has been the style of management for a long time, and it's repugnant to the musicians. Number two, it's in bankruptcy and bankruptcy is all about transparency.”;

Attorneys for the symphony society could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The symphony has 64 full-time and 25 part-time employees who have not been paid since mid-October.

In October the management also reduced part-timers' pay by 15 percent, retroactive to the start of the season, prompting the union to file a pending charge of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.

Health coverage for musicians ended Nov. 1.

Besides a voluntary benefit concert of Beethoven's Ninth this Sunday and opera concerts in January and February, the musicians' future remain uncertain.

The Office of the U.S. Trustee on Monday also opposed the society's motion to pay pre-petition wages, saying that it “;does not explain why the administrative staff should be paid while other employees must go without.”;

Also, the U.S. Trustee said there were no “;scandalous or defamatory”; matters requiring the list of employees and their wage claims to be under seal.

The 109-year-old Honolulu Symphony, billed as the oldest, nonprofit symphony West of the Rockies, has struggled with its finances for years.

Farmer fears the worst for the symphony's future.

“;The history of symphonies filing for Chapter 11 is a short trip to Chapter 7,”; he said.