Tuesday, November 23, 1999

Probate court
judge would pick
Bishop’s board

That's the proposal of the Bishop
Estate's master, but others say the
Supreme Court or the Court
of Appeals should choose

By Rick Daysog


The task of selecting future Bishop Estate trustees will go to a state probate judge, under a plan submitted by the estate's court- appointed master.

But one ousted Bishop Estate trustee said the proposal is another attempt to break the will of the estate's founder, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

In a 38-page report filed yesterday, the trust's master, Benjamin Matsubara, argued that the state probate court has the legal authority to appoint and remove future trustees of the Bishop Estate given that the state Supreme Court has ended its century-long practice of selecting board members.

Matsubara also called for a limit of two five-year terms for future estate board members and pushed for the formation of a special committee made up of at least seven members to screen potential candidates for board vacancies.

"Pauahi's legacy would be best served by the probate court exercising the power of appointment," Matsubara wrote.

"It is critical that a procedure is established immediately so that the business at hand -- the education of children of Hawaiian ancestry -- can move forward secure in its leadership and ever respectful of Pauahi's legacy."

The trustee selection process has long been a source of controversy for the multibillion-dollar charitable estate. Under the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the state Supreme Court has picked board members for more than 100 years before bowing out in December 1997 under immense public outcry.

Critics have argued that the high court's role in picking Bishop Estate trustees politicized the selection process as well the court.

Under Matsubara's plan, the subject of a Dec. 17 hearing, politics would be less of the an issue. The probate court must first name a special committee of no less than seven members with experience in educational, financial and charitable trust functions.

The committee would then screen potential candidates and would have the authority to hire outside consultants to assist them in their reviews.

Potential trustee candidates would not be subject to age-limits but their terms would be limited to five years and they would have the option of seeking a second five-year term.

The attorney general's office has argued that the state Intermediate Court of Appeals should select future trustees since its role in the selection process closely fulfills the intent of Pauahi's will.

The Justices Working Group, a coalition of more than a dozen native Hawaiian civic groups, wants the Supreme Court to continue selecting the Bishop Estate's board members, or allow Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein, the lone dissenter in the December 1997 recusal decision, to pick future board members.

Matsubara said transferring the selection duties to the state appeals court would result in a needless rewriting of Pauahi's will. He also noted that the Justices Working Group's plan also doesn't conform to Pauahi's will since Justice Klein admits that any choice that he would come up with would not constitute a majority vote of the Supreme Court, which is required under Pauahi's will.

Ousted trustee Henry Peters, meanwhile, criticized the master's report as another attempt to break Pauahi's will. Peters -- who plans to contest the matter in next month's probate court hearing -- has opposed the Supreme Court's recusal as a dereliction of their responsibilities.

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