Attorney prized
racial equality

Attorney Patrick W. Hanifin was a true renaissance man who took on unpopular and controversial issues such as the legality of government programs for native Hawaiian because he believed in equality under the law, colleagues say.

"He believed deeply that everyone, including Hawaiians, are best off when people are judged one by one, rather than by their race, and when government doesn't try to make distinction among various people based on race," said Chris Parsons, who along with Hanifin and Kyong-su Im were partners the law firm Im Hanifin Parsons.

Hanifin, 48, a Honolulu native and Saint Louis School graduate, died Saturday in Queen's Medical Center while recovering from heart surgery after suffering a heart attack on Friday.

Hanifin was co-counsel with attorney H. William Burgess on a federal court case that alleges the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands are race-based and discriminate against Hawaiians.

Motions to dismiss the case that were scheduled to be heard yesterday were postponed until September following Hanifin's heart attack. Burgess said he is ready to argue the case himself.

"He's one of the most brilliant people I've ever met, and it was an honor to know him and work closely with him," Burgess said yesterday.

A litigator with extensive experience in state and federal courts and administrative proceedings, the 1980 Harvard Law School and Notre Dame graduate spent four years practicing law in Hawaii before he returned to New England to earn a master's degree in public policy from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

He then practiced law in Massachusetts before returning to the islands in 1995, where he joined Cades Schutte Fleming & Wright and gained experience in environmental law, land use and water rights, first amendment and other fields.

He also taught at the William S. Richardson School of Law.

Hanifin is noted for being the plaintiff's attorney in three cases that challenged government programs for native Hawaiians, including the case with Burgess.

In August 2000, Hanifin won a federal court case that allowed non-Hawaiians to run as candidates for the OHA. The ruling followed a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in February 2000 that declared OHA's Hawaiians-only voter requirement illegal.

Kenneth Conklin, who was the first non-Hawaiian to file as a candidate for OHA following that ruling, said yesterday that Hanifin was an expert in law, history, philosophy, economics and political science.

Conklin said Hanifin has been interested in Hawaiian history and sovereignty issues for more than 20 years and had published several legal papers on the subject.

"Pat was a warrior fighting for the unity of Hawaii's people under a single sovereignty, and for equality under the law," he said.

Hanifin also represented Moiliili resident Patrick Barrett, who challenged the constitutionality of OHA, the Hawaiian Homes Commission and native gathering rights. A federal judge in August 2001 ruled Barrett had no standing to bring his case.

Attorney Sherry Broder, who, as OHA's legal counsel often found herself in court arguments against Hanifin said, "He was always a gentleman."

Hanifin is survived by two sisters, Theresa Wong and Kayla Boulton.

Services will be at 6:30 p.m. June 26 at St. Andrew's Cathedral. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Kapolei.


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