Levinson contradicts books on trustee appointments


POSTED: Monday, February 16, 2009

Retired Associate Justice Steven Levinson said former Gov. John Waihee, who named him to the high court, never raised the issue of being appointed to the lucrative position of Bishop Estate trustee.

“;I guarantee you I never would have voted to appoint the governor because that would have been wrong, to name the guy who appointed me to the Supreme Court,”; Levinson said.

In retirement, Levinson spoke publicly for the first time about the scathing 1998 “;Broken Trust”; article in the Star-Bulletin that led to reforms in the trust, now called Kamehameha Schools.

The articles and the “;Broken Trust”; book published in 2006 blasted the way the trustees ran the operation and suggested that the justices wanted to name Waihee, who had appointed all five of them, as a trustee. Levinson said the premise that they wanted to name Waihee is false.

“;As a matter of personal knowledge, every guess that appeared in the original essay relating to the court was wrong, and it's pure guesswork,”; he said.

In his new book, “;Ben: A Memoir, from Street Kid to Governor,”; former Gov. Ben Cayetano cited phone messages left by Levinson with the secretary for then-Bishop Estate Trustee Gerard Jervis. The messages, which were also cited in the “;Broken Trust”; book, included, “;Steven Levinson desperately needs to talk to you.”;

Cayetano wrote that the dates of the messages left “;little doubt that Levinson was providing Jervis with information about the court's deliberations about Bishop Estate.”; He wrote they were “;an obvious and egregious violation of the Judicial Code of Professional Ethics.”;

Cayetano wrote that he thought Levinson was “;not fit to sit on the court,”; and wanted to block Levinson from getting a second 10-year term on the bench. But he backed off because he knew the “;Broken Trust”; authors had filed an opposition with the Judicial Selection Commission. The commission approved Levinson's second term.

Levinson said Cayetano's inference from the messages is false. “;I've never discussed the court's deliberations in any matter with Gerry,”; he said.

Levinson said Jervis was his friend and that they had mutual interests, including Kamehameha Schools, where the former justice judged speeches and debates. He said the messages dealt with him playing telephone tag with Jervis when the former justice wanted to tell him how well the school did in a speech league tournament.

Jervis eventually called him back. “;I told him how happy I was about how well Kamehameha had done at the latest tournament,”; Levinson said.

“;Ben's a peppery kind of guy,”; Levinson said about Cayetano's remarks. “;That's part of his charm.”;

Levinson said he gladly recused himself with other justices from picking the trustees.

“;I didn't seek the job on the court for the privilege of appointing Bishop Estate trustees,”; he said. “;It had become very unpleasant to become part of that process, and I was personally tickled pink to get out of it.”;

Some have speculated Levinson, a Democrat, would not retire early and give Republican Gov. Linda Lingle a chance to replace him unless he wanted to avoid criticism generated by Cayetano's memoir.

But Levinson said that when he and his wife chose Dec. 31 for his retirement date, he did not know the former governor was writing a book.

Levinson said he simply needed to get some rest after three years as a circuit judge and nearly 17 years as an associate justice. “;It got to the point where the prospect of going to work was not a happy prospect,”; he said.