Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Justice Moon, readers
deserve an explanation
and apology

A Judiciary spokeswoman's views

I blew it. Big time. Last Sunday in this same space I wrote a "Raising Cane" column saying that Hawaii Chief Justice Ronald Moon's 1979 divorce had been sealed and that he had benefited from the Hawaii State Judiciary's policy of removing such cases completely from the public record.

I also wrote that his divorce in Hawaii could not be verified through public records in Hawaii.

The only problem was that was wrong. Dead wrong.

Even though a Judiciary spokeswoman in correspondence with the Star-Bulletin had twice referred to the sealing of Moon's case as a fact, in actuality it wasn't sealed. Even though a variety of circumstances suggested that the case had been removed from the public record, it hadn't been.


The mistake wasn't made knowingly.

After getting a tip that Moon's divorce was sealed -- in response to a previous column detailing the Judiciary's controversial policy of purging the public record of such divorce cases -- I did what I thought was a thorough check of public records to verify the accuracy of the tip.

Once the checks were made, I submitted a series of written questions to the chief Judiciary spokeswoman about the policy and Moon's divorce. Among the questions: Why was Moon's case sealed and what year did that occur?

The written response was that Moon didn't recall his divorce case was ever sealed and thus couldn't explain why it was. The spokeswoman also referred to "the fact that the chief justice's divorce case was sealed many years ago" in answering another question.

When I subsequently asked for a copy of the court order sealing his case, the spokeswoman replied, again in writing:

"Chief Justice Moon, who was divorced 23 years ago, does not have a copy of a court order sealing his divorce file among his personal records. As we have told you, he was quite surprised to learn that his file had in fact been sealed and therefore cannot tell you why or at whose behest his case was sealed, and both attorneys who represented him on that matter have since died."

I don't know whether the spokeswoman over the two days we were communicating actually checked to see if Moon's divorce was still part of the public record.

But that is beside the point.

She doesn't get paid to do my job. And it was my job to be sure his case was sealed before writing that it was.

In that respect, I failed miserably.

It wasn't for lack of trying, though.

When I checked the court's computerized public database system, it displayed a case under Moon's name that was listed as "not available," a designation typically indicating a sealed matter.

No information was given about that case, consistent with the court's policy dealing with confidential cases.

When I checked the name of Moon's former wife, the database likewise produced a "not available" designation.

Court clerks said they could not provide any information about such confidential cases, not even what type they were or when they were filed.

I then checked Land Court files, which usually has copies of divorce decrees that affect titles of property registered with that court.

In a Land Court petition that Moon filed in 1981, I found a reference at the Bureau of Conveyances to Moon's 1979 divorce. The petition didn't say where the divorce occurred, but it did state that his divorce decree, which would have listed the location, was attached. It wasn't, and officials were puzzled as to why the document was missing without a recorded explanation.

My check of records at Land Court, where the decree also should be filed, likewise was unsuccessful.

What's more, Moon's marriage certificate (for his second marriage) filed with the Land Court petition did not have information on his divorce. But the certificate on file in Carson City, Nev., where Moon was married, listed his place of divorce as Honolulu. The Carson City clerk's office said souvenir copies of marriage certificates don't include divorce information.

Once I discovered the divorce was in 1979, I checked the paper logs at the Judiciary listing court cases from 1981 and earlier. This is where I had a major mental lapse. When checking the logs -- cases are listed alphabetically -- I somehow missed the one-line entry for Moon's case, which would have given me a case number that would have lead to the microfilmed file, showing that it was public.

Because I missed that reference, I concluded that his case was confidential, especially given the other information I had obtained. That's when I contacted the Judiciary for comments, which seemed to further verify the sealing.

There are several important points to make here:

This isn't a column about trying to shift blame. No one else is to blame.

This isn't a column about listing excuses. There are none. What happened was inexcusable.

This is, however, a column about trying to provide you, the reader, with some understanding of how I could make such a serious error.

It's a column about trying to begin the process of repairing the newspaper's credibility, not to mention my own.

Most importantly, it's a column of contrition -- an apology not only to the chief justice, whose reputation I unintentionally maligned, but to you, the reader, whose trust I betrayed.

On both counts, I'm truly sorry.

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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