Saturday, March 7, 1998
SPECIAL SATURDAY UPDATE
Panel to expedite Bishop opinionThe opinion on the recusal of justices could come in a week
By Star-Bulletin staff
The head of the commission that oversees judicial conduct in Hawaii said the panel hopes to reach an opinion within a week on whether the state Supreme Court should hear appeals involving the Bishop Estate.
The announcement comes after the Supreme Court received criticism from legal experts and community leaders for what they believe to be foot-dragging by the high court on issues dealing with the estate.
Given the public's concerns over delays, the seven-member Commission on Judicial Conduct will move quickly to draft an opinion on whether the high court faces a conflict of interest on Bishop Estate matters, said commission Chairman Gerald Sekiya.
"We're doing our best to get it out by next week," Sekiya said. "We are working to expedite this."
The latest controversy started when the high court on Thursday denied a motion from state Attorney General Margery Bronster to expedite her request for the justices to recuse themselves from hearing Bishop Estate-related matters.
Bronster had filed the motion asking for recusal in January. While issuing the denial, the high court asked the commission to issue an advisory opinion on the issue.
Until recently, the Supreme Court had selected Bishop Estate trustees. Bronster believes the high court consequently faces a conflict, and says she may subpoena justices as part of her investigation into the estate.
Critics are charging that the court's failure to recuse itself is delaying the state's investigation into the $10 billion charitable trust. That delay would play into the hands of trustees and allow them to dictate the terms of the state's investigation, said Senior U.S. District Judge Samuel King, a co-author of the "Broken Trust" article that prompted the state's investigation.
He noted the high court recently issued a stay on a subpoena from the attorney general that sought records the estate filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The records, part of a two- year audit by the IRS, could show if trustees received benefits and perks at the expense of the estate.
"In effect, they have decided in favor of the trustees who are under investigation," King said.
Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who signed Thursday's order, could not be reached for comment. But Jim Branham, staff attorney for the Supreme Court, said it's not unusual for a judge to seek the commission's advice on recusal matters.
King disagreed, and said he found it unusual for the Supreme Court to seek such a opinion. Judges typically seek the advice of fellow judges on recusal matters, he said.
"On a scale of one to 10 (in unusual decisions), this one is an 11," King said. Retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Padgett added that he could not recall one instance during his 12-year tenure on the high court when the justices requested an opinion from the commission on a recusal matter.
Beadie Kanahele Dawson -- an attorney for Na Pua a Ke Ali'i Pauahi which represents more than 2,000 students and parents at the Kamehameha Schools -- said she was outraged by the Supreme Court's behavior.
She believes the ongoing controversy already is affecting student morale at Kamehameha Schools and is harming beneficiaries of the trust.
"There is no question that delay brings harm for the children," she said.