Tuesday, September 14, 1999

State seeks new
trustee process

The state wants the court of
appeals to choose Bishop Estate
trustees, citing the will
of the princess

By Rick Daysog


Selection of future Bishop Estate trustees, one of the heated topics in the two-year controversy surrounding the multibillion- dollar charity, should be handled by the state Intermediate Court of Appeals, the attorney general's office said.

But critics of the trustee selection process believe the state's plan simply transfers the controversy from one judge to another.

In court papers filed yesterday, the attorney general's office asked that Probate Judge Kevin Chang assign the selection of Bishop Estate's trustees to the appeals court to adhere as closely as possible to the will of the estate's founder, Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

Under Bishop's will, the state Supreme Court selected trustees of the Bishop Estate for more than 100 years but ended the practice in December 1997 under intense public pressure.

Deputy Attorney General Dorothy Sellers argued that the substitution of the appeals court for the Supreme Court "comes closest in spirit and in fact to fulfilling" Bishop's will.

Transferring the selection of trustees to the appeals court would avoid the appearance of impropriety since the lower court has not heard a case involving the Bishop Estate during the past 20 years, Sellers added.

But Randy Roth, University of Hawaii law professor and co-author of the 1997 "Broken Trust" article that criticized the trustee selection process, said the appeals court faces the same ethical dilemma in picking Bishop Estate trustees that the Supreme Court faced.

For years, the trustee selection process has been criticized as political. Giving the power to select trustees to the appeals court simply transfers the problem to the lower court, Roth said.

"This would be bad for the Bishop Estate and even worse for the judiciary," Roth said. "It makes no sense at all."

Probate Judge Chang has scheduled an Oct. 1 hearing for the attorney general's selection plan, along with those suggested by the interim trustees of the Bishop Estate.

The interim board -- which replaced former board members Henry Peters, Richard "Dickie" Wong, Lokelani Lindsey and Gerard Jervis in May -- is calling for a probate court-appointed selection committee which includes alumni, teachers and parents of students at the estate-run Kamehameha Schools to screen candidates for the probate court, which will make the final decision.

The interim board -- retired Adm. Robert Kihune, American Savings Bank executive Constance Lau, former Honolulu Police Chief Francis Keala, retired Iolani School headmaster David Coon and attorney Ronald Libkuman -- also favors five-year terms and limits of two terms.

The debate over the selection process comes on the heels of Circuit Judge Bambi Weil's May 6 order removing Lindsey and Jervis' permanent resignation from the trust last month. Oswald Stender has also resigned as trustee pending the permanent removal of his fellow trustees.

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