Yesterday he laid 'in state'
at the Law School that Bears his name.
Richardson's legacy huge
Courtesy of The Honolulu Staradvertiser
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 23, 2010
The most towering figure in Hawaii's legal system in the past century, William S. Richardson put into law the principle that the islands are unique in historically requiring that natural resources be shared by the general public. As the state's chief justice, Richardson assured broad basic rights exceeding those of other states. He died Monday at the age of 90.
"The western concept of exclusivity is not universally applicable in Hawaii," Richardson wrote in one of the powerful opinions during his 16 years as head of the state Supreme Court.
The vision emerged from a part-Hawaiian who rose from a meager upbringing to political activism and a legal career that stands alone in achievement in Hawaii. Earning his law degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1943, Richardson was an Army Air Corps platoon leader in World War II. After the war, he served as chairman of the emerging Democratic Party from 1956 to 1962 and was elected lieutenant governor under his good friend, John Burns, in 1962. Burns appointed him chief justice in 1966.
Soon after Richardson became the state's top judge, the state Supreme Court ruled that the owner of a small piece of land had the right to use "an ancient Hawaiian right of way" across a neighbor's land to reach his own.
In 1968, the Richardson court guaranteed the general public access to beaches, ending restrictions by hotels and shoreline homeowners. In a dispute between two plantations for rights to stream water, the court's priority was to protect the rights to downstream rice patches and taro patches, finding that the state held sovereign rights to the stream, consistent with Hawaiian tradition.
Richardson worked to convince the Legislature to authorize the opening of the University of Hawaii law school in 1973, which he regarded as a prime accomplishment. The former Palama lad who once worked as a newsboy and pineapple hand surely saw the value of nurturing homegrown minds and talent to inform decision-making. Indeed, his landmark rulings were the embodiment of his own experiences and inequities that were righted.
Richardson retired from the bench in 1982, at which point the law school was deservedly named the William S. Richardson School of Law. He maintained an office in the law school, where he encouraged and gave advice to students and faculty.
After stepping down from the Supreme Court, Richardson was selected as a trustee of the Bishop Estate, now Kamehameha Schools, by his former colleagues on the Supreme Court -- a controversial system that has since been correctly ended. He completed his service as trustee in 1992.
Richardson's presence will remain through the strong rulings made by his Supreme Court to provide freedom of access to land and water in the islands, for his devotion toward improving the lives of ordinary people through the rule of law. For those who knew him personally, he will be remembered for the humility and dignity embodied in such an extraordinary person. More HERE
Richardson and Burns were a trailblazing team
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 23, 2010
Before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the movie, the great team was Jack Burns and Bill Richardson. The pair guided Hawaii's Democrats into power 56 years ago.
Burns went on to be governor and Richardson the state Supreme Court's most illustrious chief justice.
It was Burns, first as a Honolulu police captain and then civil defense coordinator, who along with the ILWU helped form the political alliance of AJA and Filipino workers who would knit together the big Democratic wins.
Obviously, the overwhelming numbers had been staring the GOP in the face, but the Republicans chose to look the other way.
"We knew it was coming sooner or later. ... All of a sudden, everyone wanted to run and seemed to win," said Richardson in his 1990 oral history.
Richardson died Monday at 90, leaving a legacy as a political leader, lieutenant governor, Hawaii chief justice and Bishop Estate trustee. Much has been said about his landmark rulings to protect the state's Hawaiian values, but Richardson was also there at the creation of the modern Democratic Party in Hawaii.
The first time Richardson met Burns was in 1948 on Bethel Street. Richardson recalled greeting Burns, who encouraged the nickname "Stoneface," but Burns continued across the street.
"He walked right by me and I said to myself, 'Well, brother, that's the last time I'm going to say hello to you,'" Richardson said.
Burns turned around, saying, "Mr. Richardson, can I talk to you?"
The conversation was the beginning of their friendship.
In 1962, Burns was governor, Richardson lieutenant governor and they formed such a partnership that Richardson could say, "I knew exactly what he thought." When Burns left town, Richardson would work out of the governor's office and even borrow the governor's glasses.
"I'd finish what he had, sign whatever papers he had, finish whatever jobs. I knew the things that were to be done that he didn't have a chance to complete," Richardson said.
Burns went on to split up the partnership by nominating Richardson to the court, but on that first long election night in 1962 it was pure victory.
Richardson said his son, Billy, told him before going to sleep: "Dad, you tell me if you win, and if you don't, that's OK."
When Richardson woke his young son to say, "Billy, we won," his son asked, "What was the score, Dad?"
The Democrats are still keeping score, and in Hawaii, they are still winning.
Richard Borreca writes on politics every week. Reach him at email@example.com.