Judge in Kamehameha Schools case didn't disclose apparent confli - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Judge in Kamehameha Schools case didn't disclose apparent conflict

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

For more than three years, Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall has presided over the lawsuits against Kamehameha Schools and St. Francis Hospital by former students who accuse a psychiatrist of sexual abuse decades ago.

But she didn’t’ publicly disclose that in the 1990s and the early 2000s, her husband, David Schulmeister, and his law firm, Cades Schutte, represented the Kamehameha Schools, billing as much as $1 million a year.

"I think there is at the very least an appearance of a conflict of interest,” said attorney Earle Partington, who said that a judge's failure to disclose a potential conflict could harm the state Judiciary’s reputation.

"We want the public to believe that our system is fair and that the judges are fair. And if the public perceives there is a conflict of interest, then they will not believe they will get fairness when they go to court."

Crandall, who has already made a number of key rulings in the case, is a well-respected judge, who was named jurist of the year by the state Judiciary in September.

Her office referred questions to a Judiciary spokeswoman, who said the department can't comment on cases that are pending.

Schulmeister and Cades Schutte have represented Kamehameha Schools on a broad range of issues, including tax matters, Probate Court proceedings and legal challenges to the school’s Hawaiians-first admission policy.

In fact, in August 2003, Schulmeister was spokesman for the trust’s defense of its admission policy, issuing this statement to the media during a news conference:

“The position of the schools is that the (admission) policy has to be applied fairly and equally to all applications and in this case, false information was submitted,” he said.

Attorney Robert Richards, the special master appointed by state Probate Judge Kevin Chang in 2000, explained the firm's role at the Kamehameha Schools in this way: “(This) firm had an extensive history of legal work for the Trust … it became involved in almost everything, submitted bills on almost everything,” Richards wrote.

“In reviewing the billings, its purpose often seems to be that of an overseer, directing and checking the work of others, often in a duplicative, cost ineffective manner. It was never counsel of record in any of the proceedings and seldom assumed lead status. Nonetheless it submitted very large billings, which were always paid.”

A potential conflict of interest in this case is especially sensitive given the historic and controversial role that the courts played in selecting former Kamehameha Schools trustees.

Public outcry during the late 1990s campus controversy eventually forced the state Supreme Court to step away from the selection process. Trustee appointments are now handled by a Probate Judge assisted by a Trustee Screening Committee, which consists of members of the public.

"Anyone who knows the problems with Kamehameha Schools years ago and the long relationship with the Judiciary would immediately become suspicious,” said University of Hawaii Political Science Professor Colin Moore.

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