Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Bishop trustees
are masters of delay

THE struggle to rescue the rich Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate from old-boy spoils system management is five years old. It still hasn't succeeded and just cost an honest state attorney general her job.

The five present trustees -- two of them grand jury-indicted and a third an attempted suicide -- hang on. Don't count on the critical Internal Revenue Service audit to dislodge them promptly. The majority trustees' attorneys are masters of delay.

Early in 1994 there were widespread rumors the justices of the state Supreme Court, all appointed by Governor Waihee, wanted him on the Bishop board even before his term's end in December.

To sanitize the selection, the justices created a blue-ribbon panel. It shocked them by voting Waihee off its list of qualified nominees.

Then the court appointed a new panel. This time Waihee disclaimed interest. By then, however, word was around that as a private attorney after his governorship he could count on lucrative Bishop contracts. This has come true.

From the second panel the justices chose a Waihee friend and former chairman of the state Judicial Selection Commission. The five-member estate board now includes a former Senate president, a former House speaker, the ex-selection commission chairman and its first woman, an educator from Maui involved in Democratic politics. All are paid more than $800,000 a year.

How cozy! The Senate president, House speaker and the governor make appointments to the Judicial Selection Commission. It names panels from which the governor nominates judges, including Supreme Court justices, to be confirmed by the Senate. All five sitting justices who made the three latest Bishop Estate appointments -- all controversial --are Waihee-nominated.

Gov. John A. Burns meddled earlier with better results. He pushed for Matsuo Takabuki, the first American of Japanese ancestry. Unlike other politicians now on the board,Takabuki had Wall Street financial savvy. He engineered Bishop Estate's lucrative major investment in the financial house of Goldman Sachs.

The estate today is rich enough to pay out to the Kamehameha Schools twice or more the $100 million allowed in recent years. With $200 million it could educate many more Hawaiian children, move faster to build Maui and Big Island elementary school campuses and also keep as many as have merit of the womb-to-adulthood outreach programs killed after Takabuki and Myron Thompson left the board.

Four prominent Hawaiians and an estate law professor joined in 1997 to detail the spoils system at the estate. They kicked off a still-continuing reform effort with their "Broken Trust" essay that the Star-Bulletin published in full on Aug. 9, 1997.

Soon afterward, Governor Cayetano ordered Attorney General Margery Bronster to investigate his old friends. Her staff moved with diligence, but delaying tactics of high-paid lawyers for the majority trustees keep them in office.

Estate house-cleaning victories seem within reach, however. But the old-boy network prevailed in the state Senate last week to kick out Bronster on a 14-11 roll call vote.

Bishop Estate archive

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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