Saturday, July 8, 2000
At issue is a building once owned by Judge David L. Fong's wife
By Ian Y. Lind
The Commission on Judicial Conduct has launched a probe into the financial interests of District Court Judge David L. Fong, commission Chairman Gerald Sekiya said yesterday.
Sekiya said the commission began its investigation "about two weeks ago" after Chief Justice Ronald Moon forwarded copies of annual financial reports filed by Fong since 1989.
Moon's action apparently came in response to questions from the Star-Bulletin, Sekiya said.
The Star-Bulletin reported this week that hostess bars accused of prostitution and drug dealing were located in a Sheridan Street building purchased and managed by Fong's wife between 1991 and 1998.
Fong "waived the confidentiality of the fact that the matter has been referred to the commission for investigation," Sekiya said.
The commission's initial focus is on possible inaccuracies or deficiencies in Fong's financial disclosures.
"A judge who fails to file a timely statement, or who files an incomplete statement, may be subject to discipline," Supreme Court rules state. The rules also say that the commission may decline to take action against a judge if inaccuracies or deficiencies in reporting are "inadvertent or in good faith."
Connie Yon Fong purchased the Sheridan Street building in late 1991 through an unrecorded agreement of sale, records show, but the transaction was not reported by Judge Fong until February 1995.
Fong told the Star-Bulletin the agreement of sale was not completed until 1994. Fong also said he was unaware of any illegal activities taking place in the building while his wife owned it, but records show he represented one of the bars in Liquor Commission proceedings after it was cited on at least two occasions for failing to prevent prostitution and allowing sexual contact between customers and employees.
At the time, Fong was a part-time judge and also maintained a private law practice focusing on liquor license issues. Fong closed his law practice in late 1996, following his appointment to a full-time judicial post.
His business was taken over by a new company, Liquor License Specialists Inc., owned by his wife and his former secretary.
Liquor License Specialists was incorporated in 1996 but did not appear on Fong's financial disclosures until earlier this year, following questions from the Star-Bulletin.
Fong said he had inadvertently failed to report his wife's 51 percent interest in the firm because it was being formed at the same time that he assumed new and expanded duties.
Although not well known outside of judicial circles, Fong is currently chairman of the Hawaii State Trial Judges Association and an ex-officio member of the board of directors of the Hawaii State Bar Association.
Sekiya said he could not estimate when the commission's investigation would be completed.
"These things normally take months," he said. "We (the commission) meet once a month, and have only one full-time staff member."