Thursday, April 15, 1999

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OHA decides to
battle Bronster

By Pat Omandam


The Office of Hawaiian Affairs tomorrow plans to oppose Margery Bronster's reappointment as state attorney general because, among other things, she refused to declare a conflict of interest in the Rice vs. Cayetano case now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a letter dated April 2, OHA Attorney Sherry Broder told Bronster the OHA board unanimously voted she had a conflict of interest in the Rice case because she also represents the state against OHA in litigation over past-due revenue from ceded lands.

Bronster says otherwise.

"There is no conflict," Bronster said yesterday. "I'm representing Governor Cayetano and upholding both the constitution of the state of Hawaii and the laws of the state of Hawaii."

The Senate Judiciary Committee at 10 a.m. tomorrow will hear testimony on Cayetano's nomination to reappoint Bronster.

OHA's Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday voted to oppose her reappointment on several grounds: Bronster's opposition to recent gubernatorial pardons and her failure to recuse herself from the Rice case.

The U.S. Supreme Court on March 22 announced it would hear an appeal by Big Island rancher Harold "Freddy" Rice. Rice, a non-Hawaiian, claims his constitutional rights were violated on the basis of race because he cannot vote in OHA elections. Lower courts, however, have upheld the Hawaiians-only elections.

Committee Chairwoman Mililani Trask said Bronster last year brought in a constitutional law expert to argue against OHA on the case involving past-due revenue before the Hawaii Supreme Court. But as the state attorney general, Bronster has a trust obligation to defend OHA, Trask said.

Trask said Bronster has focused much of her efforts on the Bishop Estate investigation, another Hawaiian trust.

Bronster said she brought in outside counsel in the past-due revenue case because the state needed a sovereign immunity expert. "But that doesn't mean we're suggesting in any way, shape or form that the constitution that created OHA or the laws under which OHA is operating are inappropriate or unconstitutional," she said.

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