William S. Richardson

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Original Thinkers

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Original Thinkers

 

Look back on three guests who trusted their instincts and possessed unwavering confidence in the choices they made. We revisit our conversations with the late Hawai‘i State Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson, Wai‘anae High School (O‘ahu) educator Candy Suiso and video game creator-turned-philanthropist Henk Rogers.

 

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Original Thinkers Audio

 

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Transcript

 

It’s a monumental decision that affects us every day.

 

William S.  Richardson:

It does, and I go swimming too.  And I know I can walk to a certain spot, and this is public property.  And my friends and I can use it.

 

Candy Suiso:

And for our kids, we want them to be the best at whatever they choose to be.  And be honest, contributing citizens to our community.  To come back, to give back, and just to do what’s right in life.  Do what’s right, even when no one’s watching.

 

Henk Rogers:

The game business is bigger than the movie business.  Sometimes, I see young people, and they go: I want to be a game designer, I want to get into the game business.  To get into the game business today, you can’t just be good; you have to be brilliant.

 

How can you spot a truly creative mind, an innovator and problem-solver?  Do they share similar personality traits?  Are they smarter than the rest of us?  More confident, more daring.  Coming up on Long Story Short, three very different, all practitioners of original thinking.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Original thinkers reveal themselves as they assume a variety of roles within our community. What is that special motivation or skill that inspired a chief justice, a public schoolteacher, and a videogame creator turned philanthropist?  All three trusted their instincts, their sense of priority and free-thinking.

 

First, we’ll turn to a 2009 conversation with a man known as CJ, a nickname given to the late Hawai‘i State Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson.  He was a public school graduate who grew up in a working class Kaimukīfamily during the 1920s.  He championed Hawai‘i’s Democratic Party during its rise to power in the 50s, and served as lieutenant governor during the John Burns administration.  He was the State’s chief justice during some of the most formative years in Hawai‘i’s history, when a young island state searched for its sense of identity and fundamental values.

 

You were one of the people that was excited about statehood, that helped to make it happen, that recrafted government in the wake of statehood.  And now, we’re coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of statehood, 2009.  Many Hawaiians don’t see that as cause for celebration.

 

Well … to me, it’s great cause for celebration. We’re part of a great country. Like every other state in the union, they had to come up and live, and have their new laws jive with the old. Even if you go back to England, where the common law came over, and if you looked at the way the law went across the country right through the Louisiana Purchase where the French came in, and the country had to adjust to that.  And now, we must still look at how it affects the Far East and all the other countries and states and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.

 

Part of what is now, is based on the Great Māhele, King Kamehameha III.  And it was a distribution of land.  Do you think that was pono?

 

I think it’s pono.  I think our leaders of the past were as good as any that ever existed, that our Hawaiian ways were just ways of living.  And Hawai‘i should revive what we could of the good parts. And I would say almost all of it were good parts.

 

You could have used the English law as a precedent, but often, you would look back to see what ali‘i from the Monarchy days did.

 

Well, whenever I could, whatever the history books would come up with on old Hawai‘i and what few things that I had picked up over the years, I felt that I should try to apply those to the extent that we could.

 

For example, when the question came, who owns the new land being created by lava from the volcano, what was the answer of your court?

 

Well, that seemed easy enough for me, but I know the beaches were needed in Hawai‘i.  Without our beaches, there was no Hawai‘i to speak of, the Hawai‘i that we loved.

 

Now, in many parts of the continent, the beaches are private property; right?

 

Yes.  It seemed perfectly logical to me that people should be able to use the beaches, and that the property lines could not follow all of the methods of old England, say, and that I should try to bring those cases up in line to the way the Hawaiians did it.

 

And that wasn’t the only big one you did.  There were the rights of citizens to challenge Land Court decisions, Native Hawaiian rights, and use of private property water.

 

Again, I wasn’t that much of an expert on Hawaiian law.  But I had a good court.  They were willing and able go and look at all of the problems, and see what was going on. And I traveled around the islands a lot. And you’re speaking now perhaps of water right, which was so important, because we were a plantation community. And you get to a case like when two plantations began to argue over how much water they could have.  They both needed water.  But when a third one began to take too much water, to the detriment of some of the others, then you had to decide whose water should it be.  The Robinson case in the end was clear to me, but it seemed revolutionary, I suppose.  But the people who really needed the water were those on the bottom of the streams, the taro patch and the rice patch owners.  They’re the ones that needed the water.  And so, it seemed simple to me to just say: Well, neither of you is entitled to all of that water; it’s the people down below, the taro patch owners and the rice patch owners.

 

It’s elegantly simple.  I actually talked with the dean of the law school, which is named after you.  Avi Soifer said imagine, you know, very complicated filings, going on for years, big battle, and you said: Well, let’s take a look at what’s happening at the end of the line.

 

Well, and we were a new state, not used to following and just being a follower.  We needed to decide to decide for ourselves what was best for our people.

 

You took some heat over that.

 

I did.

 

But it became a symbol of enlightenment.  People said, you know, here’s a far-thinking guy using the past to build on the future.

 

Well, of course, I’m glad to hear you say that. And I thought it was right.  There was never any question in my own mind.

 

Chief Justice William Richardson, for whom the law school at the University of Hawai‘i is named, was an original thinker, in the right place at the right time, and his legacy is embedded in the constitutional laws of our state.

 

Sometimes, the journey that brings the right original thinker to the right place and time is really not much of a journey at all, but no less impactful. In our 2009 conversation with Candy Suiso, she said that when she graduated from Wai‘anae High School, she thought she wanted to get away from the Leeward Coast community, and never come back.  Thankfully, this second-generation teacher and Milken Award winning educator had a change of heart.  Although she would insist on sharing the credit, today, Suiso’s legacy is the national Emmy Award winning Searider Productions at Wai‘anae High School.  It is not only the largest, most successful digital media center any school in the state, it’s the driving force behind a movement to improve a challenged community from within.

 

I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to give back to a community that was very good to me.  I really felt that that’s where I was the most needed.  It felt right.  I wanted to be home.  I wanted to be in a community that raised me.  And it was the right thing to do; I just felt that that was the right thing to do. And it was the right decision, when I look back.

 

Much of what you’ve done at Wai‘anae High School wasn’t done, really, within the system.  You had to find ways to equip yourself and your students with grants.  You had to become a grant writer to get the proper equipment, the space.

 

M-hm.  Within the DOE, there’s so many limitations, and there’s only so much money to go around. And part of our success is, I believe we’ve learned to work around the system, and been very successful in, like you said, going after a lot of grants.  A lot of support, pulling together partners, pulling together people that believe in you; that’s been our success.  We had to prove our self.  You know, like you said, the right people at the right time started to notice these students, and started to give.  Because they were doing things with nothing.  When we first started, we started in a classroom with no air conditioning, with very little equipment.

 

And by the way, heat isn’t just bad for people.

 

It’s so bad.

 

It’s bad for equipment.

 

We would pack fifty kids, forty kids in a classroom, and it was hot, and no air conditioning.  But you know, those kids never grumbled.  They never grumbled because they didn’t have an air-conditioned room or top of the line equipment, like a lot of other schools did.  Instead, they just started to create projects, and they did some pretty good projects, and people started to notice.  That’s what happens; people started to notice.

 

How did they know they could do that?  What got them started?

 

You give them the tools.  As educators, you know, the team of educators, there was enough people out there that said: You can do it; of course, you can do it. Make a video; here, here’s the tool, here’s the camera.  Here’s your tool; here’s how you do it.

 

The essence of video production, as I look at it, is storytelling.  What kind of experience do you think your students had in storytelling?

 

They are born with the gift to tell a story. I really believe their success is because they are born with the gift to create.  The kids out in Wai‘anae, I really believe, are the most creative, loving storytellers.  Because they grow up; they don’t grow up with a lot.  I really believe that they don’t grow up with a lot, so they entertain themselves by playing the ‘ukulele, sitting around talking story, they draw, they doodle, they sing.  And it carries over.  When they come to us, they’re so strong, their heartfelt creativity carries over with this tool.  All of a sudden, we have these expensive toys now that we give them, and we say: Go create. And they’re great.

 

And they just take to it.

 

And it’s amazing; it’s incredible.

 

You didn’t have the star pupils of Wai‘anae High School.  Some of your kids were doing really poorly in other classes, they were reporting to school from their homes on the beach in tents.

 

M-hm.  We have the homeless, we have kids whose parents have been in jail, they are abused, they come to us.  You know, a lot of dysfunction; so much.  And you know, that’s my world; I grew up there, and I know that world.  And they come to us, and we give them hope.  For a lot of these kids, it’s their security. We’re their family.  We teach them a tool, and they become successful at it. And they see something that they create, and for their self-esteem, it’s: Wow, I did that.  You know, it gives them hope.  And they realize: I have just learned something that I can do for life.  And a lot of these kids’ lives have been turned around.  They would have dropped out, I really believe.  And they’ll tell us that too: If it wasn’t for this class, I would have dropped out, or I didn’t know I was gonna go to college, or I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  And now, so many of our kids are college graduates.

 

They’re being recruited by television stations.

 

They’re being recruited.

 

And advertising agencies.

 

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

 

I remember when your Seariders first started doing public service announcements for various clients, you invited the business community to hire the kids and said, “We’ll see what we can come up with for you.” And I just remember as a professional television person at that time, how the students’ work had so much more depth than what you would normally see in a PSA, a public service announcement, because the kids knew that world, as you mentioned.  When it was about crystal meth, they brought a reality to it that nobody had brought before.

 

These kids know what it’s like to living in houses and homes where there’s crystal meth, where they have to be in a car where someone’s been drinking.

 

They know how it hurts.

 

They know how it hurt.  And it was their stories.  If you look at any of those PSAs, those are their stories.  That was either them, or that was someone they knew, and they were able to come up with the ideas from the heart, from real life.  And I think that’s what makes their work so powerful.  It’s real stories.  They tell their stories.  Whether it’s a news story, a public service announcement, a commercial, they’re just telling their story.

 

Tell me about if can, can.

 

If can, can; if no can, no can.  Because you know, there’s nothing worse, we feel, than saying you’re gonna do something, and not do it, and not follow through. And we tell these kids: If you’re gonna do something, if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, hold yourself to it and do it, follow through and do it.  Because really, there’s nothing worse than not completing something that you’ve committed to.  And if we could teach them now in school, it will carry over in life, in a job, in a marriage, in a relationship.

 

And when you work in teams, you know other people are counting on you.

 

Yes; ‘cause it’s teamwork.  And the good thing about our program is, every project that these kids do is a team effort.  And we always think, when you leave our program, if you have learned nothing about video production, about creating a web page, about page layout, a newspaper, we hope you’ve really learned the importance of teamwork, cooperation—

 

And getting things done on time.

 

Meeting deadlines, respect, respect for self, respect for other people, respect for property.  So, if you’re gonna say you’re gonna do something, you better do it, because if you don’t, you’re dropping the ball for your teammates.  But just don’t say you’re gonna do something if you can’t do it, ‘cause you let everybody down.  So, if can, can; if no can, no can.  And it’s been our mantra.  And the kids, they get it; the kids get it.

 

Where do you think this movement will take the Wai‘anae Coast?

 

I hope eventually it will take them out of poverty. It might take decades, but this is certainly a start.  You have a group of young adults that are really making a difference, because they have come back to the Wai‘anae Coast, and they are giving back, and they believe in themselves, and they’re believing in the students that are under them.  And they are trying very hard to prove to the rest of the world that we’re just as good as everybody else, if you just give us a chance.

 

Perhaps educator Candy Suiso would have provided inspiration for our next original thinker, who nearly dropped out of high school.  In 2016, visionary entrepreneur Henk Rogers told us that he took the one and only elective course offered at Stuyvesant High School in New York City.  When he learned everything there was to know about that elective in computer science, he saw no reason to remain in school.  But he did graduate from high school, and Henk Rogers has made a fortune in the video gaming industry, most notably for bringing Tetris, one of the world’s top-selling videogames, from Russia to the rest of the world.  More recently, this Hawai‘i resident and visionary entrepreneur has turned his talents to no less than saving the planet. He made that leap when suddenly confronted with just how fragile his own life could be.

 

I found myself in the back of an ambulance with a hundred percent blockage of the widow-maker.  That is the artery, the biggest artery in your heart, and it will kill you if it’s blocked.  And so, I was lucky, ‘cause I kind of felt it coming, and they called an ambulance for me, and so, I was already on the way to Straub.  And then, I realized, because they were gonna take me in for observation; they said: There’s nothing really wrong with you, we’ll just take you in for observation, we won’t even turn on the siren.  The siren went on, the guy who was taking care of me was in the cockpit talking to the hospital and saying—I didn’t hear, but I knew he was saying: This guy is not even gonna make it, get an operation room ready, an operating room ready, blah-blah-blah.  And I’m back there saying: You gotta be kidding me; I haven’t spent any of the money yet.  You know.   I was going: Oh, is this some kind of a joke?  I worked so hard all my life, and finally sell my company, get a bunch of money, and I’m on the say out?  And then, the second thing I said: No, I’m not going, I still have stuff to do.  And it’s kind of like, I thought, you know, what are the things that I’ve always talked to myself that I was gonna get done in life, and that I hadn’t even started?  And that just made me say: No, I’m gonna do this.  And so, I was in the hospital recovering, and the next couple weeks I didn’t go back to work.  I had my chance to think about my bucket list.  And I said: These are missions in life.  And the first mission came to me in the back of the newspaper.  It was like, in the back of the newspaper, it had a story about coral.  Oh, by the way, we’re gonna kill all the coral in the world by the end of the century. And you know, I moved to Hawai‘i, and I fell in love with the ocean.  I used to dive, surf on the North Shore, and I couldn’t believe that we would do something so callous as to kill all the coral in the world.  Islands are made out of coral.  And you know, you look a little bit further, and it’s like a third of the life in the ocean is dependent on the coral existing.  So, I said: No, no, we’re not allowed to do that. What’s causing that?  It’s ocean acidification.  What’s causing that?  Carbon dioxide going into the ocean is causing that.  So then, my first mission is to end the use of carbon-based fuel. And so, I started the foundation, and recently, we had a big success in Hawai‘i, that Hawai‘i has made the mandate that they were gonna be a hundred percent renewable by 2045, for electricity. And that is a huge step in the right direction.

 

And your Blue Planet Foundation had a role in that.

 

Oh, I would say we’re the ones who created that legislation and fought for it.  And, you know, ‘cause when you create a piece of legislation, then you have to work with all the politicians, and you gotta get enough politicians to get behind it, to get it passed.  So, it’s not good enough to just come up with the words, ‘cause it’s—it’s all the pushing that goes on.  I guess it’s called lobbying.

 

Yes, it is.

 

And you’re already off the grid at your home in Honolulu, and on the ranch.

 

Yes.  So, we were studying storage, and we finally decided that we were gonna just get off the grid on the Big Island.  And so, we tested the different storage technologies, and now we ended up with a battery technology that basically runs by itself.

 

What are some of the things that prepared you to have the career you did, which was something you made up yourself?  You didn’t follow a template for it.  What were some of the formative things along the way?

 

I think one of the things is that I always had a deep-rooted feeling that whatever it is that I wanted to do, I could do it.

 

Where did that come from?

 

I think it came from New York.  It’s kind of an attitude that we had in high school.  We stopped the war in Vietnam.  Okay; we didn’t specifically, but we were part of it. And that kind of energy, the feeling that youth can change the world, and that is a very important feeling. And I need the young people in Hawai‘i to have that feeling.  They need to take ownership of their future, and make Hawai‘i the example of sustainability.

 

This videogame creator, environmentalist, the public schoolteacher, and the chief justice; three original thinkers.  What they seem to share is an unwavering persistence to push, to get it right, and have confidence in the choices they make. We’re honored to revisit our conversation with the late Chief Justice William Richardson, and we thank Candy Suiso and Henk Rogers for their inspiring stories.  I’m Leslie Wilcox for Long Story Short.  Mahalo to you for joining us.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Were you ambitious?

 

Not that I know of.

 

But you went ahead, and went through four years at UH.

 

I went four years at UH, and enjoyed it all the way through.

 

Met a lot of people who would later be your allies in politics.

 

Yes, yes.

 

And good friends.

 

Good friends; they helped me in everything I’ve done.

 

You went to UH, and you had more than most people of your time had, a college degree, but that wasn’t gonna be the end of your higher education.

 

Well, I thought it was, but I had a job with the oil company, and I thought: Well, this would be great, I like this kind of work; I think I’ll do this the rest of my life.  And then, one of the professors up at school went to see my father, and he said: Now, this boy better go on to law school.  And well, how can you do that Dad; you can’t afford it.  Well, he said: You know, if you’re really gonna go, I’ll rent your room out, and you go on to college.  Which he did.  In those days, it was five days by steamship, and another four days by train to get to the East Coast.

 

Your mom was a legendary teacher on the Wai‘anae Coast; right?

 

Oh, thirty-one years of her life, she dedicated her life to teaching out there.  And really, that was her life.  She impacted a community, and thirty years, just taught at Mākaha Elementary School.  She went there, and she never left.  I know the principal would always throw all of these hardcore kids and say: Okay, Mrs. Smith, you’re the one that’s gonna take these kids. And she would turn them around. She was mean, but she was very strict, and she was very fair, and she loved them all.  And she did; she turned a lot lives around.

 

When I started my company, I used my Hawai‘i experience of ARRG, which is playing Dungeons & Dragons.  And personal computers happened, and I thought: This is my chance.  So, I made the first roleplaying game in Japan.  But I didn’t speak, read, or write Japanese, and I hacked that computer and got my wife to try to read something in the manual, but she knows nothing about computers.  And so, that was also like hocus-pocus that was coming out of them.  Anyway, I hacked my way through the game, made it.  So, there were no roleplaying games before The Black Onyx, and it became the number-one game in 1984, and it was the number-two game in 1985.  So, it had a two-year reign.  And now, something like thirty percent of all games in Japan are roleplaying games. So, you know, people that are in the industry that meet me and find out that I wrote Black Onyx, they say: Oh, my god, you’re the reason I’m in this industry, you know.

 

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Right of Access

 

More than 50 years ago, under Chief Justice William S. Richardson, the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i ruled the public had the right to access all beaches throughout our State. But for decades there have been disputes — clashes throughout the islands — involving access pathways that lead to our beaches.

 

What do you think? Is is time we settled this “right of access” dispute linked to one of the most historically significant rulings in our history?

 

Your questions and comments are welcome via phone, email and via Twitter during the Live Broadcast.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:insights@pbshawaii.org

 

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Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 


LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
William S. Richardson

 

Original air date: Tues., Jan. 6, 2009

 

Former Hawai‘i Chief Justice

 

William S. Richardson recalls growing up in a house his dad built along a dirt lane in Kaimuki. When the family moved there from Palama, they had so few possessions they simply took what they had on a streetcar. Those were simpler times for the man who would go on to be Lt. Governor (under John A. Burns), Chief Justice of the Hawai‘i State Supreme Court and Bishop Estate Trustee.

 

Popularly known as CJ, for Chief Justice, William Richardson is also the man for whom the law school at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa is named. CJ Richardson joins Leslie Wilcox for an engaging conversation on Long Story Short.

 

William S. Richardson Audio

 

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Transcript

 

Throughout the Hawaiian islands, we can all enjoy the beautiful beaches because they belong to the State, not private landowners.   No one can “own” our shorelines. Same goes for new lands created by volcanic activity. They belong to the state, to us all, not nearby property owners. These are concepts we might take for granted today; but it wasn’t always the case. They are two of the important rulings–laws of the land–that were handed down by the Hawai‘i State Supreme Court … led by a public school grad from Kaimuki. A conversation with Chief Justice, Retired, William S. Richardson, next.

 

OPEN / SONY

 

Aloha no, I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. Mahalo for joining me for another Long Story Short. Today we get to chat with William S. Richardson, who served as Hawai‘i State Supreme Court Chief Justice from 1966 to 1982. He also served as Lieutenant Governor, under John A. Burns, a trustee of the old Bishop Estate, and he was chairman of the Hawai‘i Democratic Party when Democrats surged to legislative power in 1954. And he’s the namesake of the state’s only law school. Popularly known as “CJ”, for Chief Justice, William Richardson was raised in a working-class family in Kaimuki.

 

When you say you grew up in Kaimuki, it’s not the Kaimuki that people here think of, is it?

 

No; it was a Kaimuki that for me, I had to walk through the lanes from Waialae Avenue, about three blocks, going toward Waikiki, through a lane to my house. My father built the house himself.

 

No streetlights and—

 

No streetlights.

 

—sidewalks?

 

Only a lane; we could only walk in a lane.

 

A dirt lane?

 

A dirt lane. We had no car yet.

 

And you moved to Kaimuki, which was country, after living in the city, Palama.

 

Yes. I don’t know whether we had very much. But we went by streetcar, and much of the time, we just caught the streetcar and carried whatever you owned on your back. And how far did the streetcar go? Well, at one time, to 6th Avenue, another time to 12th Avenue, and then next time, all the way down to Waialae Country Club, Kealaolu.

 

That was electric trolley, right?

 

Yes; yes. With the hook up above.

 

So it was the mass transit of yesteryear.

 

Well, you could call it that; yes, you could.

 

[chuckle] And one of your classmates was someone who also became very well known in Hawai‘i, an accomplished Isabella Aiona Abbott.

 

Oh, yes. She lived about three blocks away from me. She was one of the brains of the school.

 

[chuckle] She was the first native Hawaiian woman to get a PhD in science.

 

Yeah; and from Stanford, was it? Oh, yes; she’s a bright girl.

 

Well, talking about brains of the school; were you one of them?

 

Oh, no.

 

You sure?

 

Oh, yes, I’m sure of that. I mean, I got along; that was it.

 

When you finished high school, you went on to college. Was that a big thing in your family?

 

Yes, it was. Not many boys went on to college. And I think some people felt it was time for one to start working at sixteen or seventeen, and college was just out of the ordinary.

 

Why did you go? What was the impetus?

 

I think my father felt that I better get up there. And I think he had visions of my going to the University, but I didn’t have that vision yet. [chuckle]

 

Were you ambitious?

 

Not that I know of.

 

But you went ahead and went through four years at UH.

 

I went four years at UH, and enjoyed it all the way through.

 

Met a lot of people who would later be your allies in politics and—

 

Yes.

 

—good friends in—

 

Good friends—

 

—a long life.

 

They helped me in everything I’ve done.

 

So you went to UH. And—

 

Yes.

 

—you had more than most people of your time had; a college degree. But that wasn’t gonna be the end of your higher education.

 

Well, I thought it was, but I had a job with the oil company. And I thought, well, this would be great; I like this kind of work. I think I’ll do this the rest of my life. And then one of the professors up at school went to see my father, and she said, Now, this boy better go on to law school. And I said, Well, how can you do that, Dad; you can’t afford it. Well he said, You know, if you really gotta go, I’ll rent your room out, and you go on to college. Which he did. In those days, it was five days by steamship, and another four days by train to get to the East Coast.

 

When you were at the University of Cincinnati Law School, that was a different time racially. You’re Hawaiian, Chinese, Caucasian; what did people make of you? Where did you fit in?

 

Well, I suppose I fit in all right, but when the war came on, there was some stigma. Anybody different from the haole kids that were around, he was different.

 

Did people think you were Japanese at the—

 

I think many—

 

—at wartime?

 

I think many did after the war started, because they just didn’t know.

 

Do you remember getting exposed to overt racism?

 

Yes, but it was never so bad that I’d feel afraid to be around. And most of them knew that I was of draft age anyway, and that I wouldn’t be around very long, and draft would get me, and that would be the end of that.

 

And indeed, you went on to infantry training?

 

Yes; I went—those days, it was all Army, and I started with the Army air corps, and then I went to Fort Benning, Georgia in the infantry school for the Army. And from there on, I went on to the West Coast, and then to New Guinea, and then to the Philippines. I spent most of my time, Army time there in the Philippines.

 

Did that experience change your life in any way, being in the war?

 

I wouldn’t say that it did. I just took everything as it went along. I was draftable. Either go in as a foot soldier, or an officer, and that was it.

 

Is it true that when you went back to normal life, that you didn’t have to take the bar exam right after the war?

 

Well, that’s true, because they when I came back, it was an LLB, which was a little different from the JD today. And they said, Well, we’ll just send you your JD degree; and that’s it.

 

And so no hours and days, and weeks, and months of studying for the bar?

 

No; no. No; didn’t have to do that at all. I went into the Reserves, and they stuck me into the Judge Advocate General’s department, and there, I stayed until I retired from the Army. Which wasn’t very long. [chuckle]

 

Following the war, William Richardson began working as a lawyer and married his childhood sweetheart, Amy Ching. The two raised three children. In the mid-1950s, Richardson emerged as a leader on the islands’ political scene, working closely with those friends he got to know while attending the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

 

You were one of the people that was excited about statehood, that helped to make it happen, that—re-crafted government in the wake of statehood. And now, we’re coming up on the fiftieth anniversary of statehood, 2009. Many Hawaiians don’t see that as cause for celebration.

 

Well to me, it’s great cause for celebration. We’re part of a great country. Like every other state in the union, they had to come up and live and have their new laws gibe with the old. Even if you go back to England, where the common law came over, and if you looked at the way the law went across the country right through the Louisiana Purchase, where the French came in, and we had—the country had to adjust to that. And now we must still look at how it affects the Far East and all the other countries and states, and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean.

 

Part of what is now, is based on the Great Mahele, King Kamehameha III. And that was considered a distribution—it was a distribution of land. Do you think that was …

 

 

Well, I—

 

—pono?

 

I think it’s pono. I think our leaders of the past were as good as any that ever existed. That our Hawaiian ways were just ways of living. And Hawai‘i should revive what we could of the good parts. And I have to say almost all of it were good parts.

 

Is there a part of you that identifies with, say, the sovereignty activists or the people who say we let people take our land, or they took it from us, we need it back, we need to—we need better restitution?

 

Well, we have to use the American system, and the Hawaiian system, and we must find a solution to make it so that we’re not just coming up against each other without trying to resolve them in what we would consider a modern way of doing it. I don’t mean to say that we should reject any of the old ways, nor reject the new ways; but that’s for this court now, and their wise people that are—

 

M-m. Is one of the solutions a separate Hawaiian nation?

 

Oh, I don’t think we could go back to being a separate Hawaiian nation. I want to take the good parts of it; but no, I can’t go back to the old way. We’re a different nation today, and we’re living under a flag that we all love today.

 

Part-Hawaiian, Chinese and Caucasian, William Richardson has been credited with looking back to old Hawai‘i for new wisdom. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court gave the public access to Hawai‘i’s shorelines, and ruled that precious water and new lands created by lava flows belong to the State—decisions reflecting Richardson’s desire to incorporate Hawaiian customs as guiding principles within our legal system.

 

Your court was known as an activist court. You helped expand native Hawaiian rights. What are some of the things you are most proud of?

 

Well, I think I had a chance to—well, let me start this way. The previous Chief Justice was the first, and he had been ill for a long time. And so some of the big decisions that did not depend on rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court were held back. So some of the cases may be ten years old, and just weren’t taken up, because of his illness, and maybe because of the newness of the State, that some of the cases that were the real important ones were being set aside. Perhaps because the U.S. Supreme Court had coming out—had been coming out with a lot of the criminal cases. So in those cases, Hawai‘i merely followed suit. If the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a certain way, then we had to go along, of course. But then there were other cases peculiar of Hawai‘i; water, beaches, plantation differences, general growth of Hawai‘i that might be unique of Hawai‘i.

 

You could have used the English law as a precedent, but often you would look back at—to see what ali‘i from the monarchy days did.

 

Well, whenever I could, whatever the history books would come up with on old Hawai‘i, and what few things that I had picked up over the years, I felt that I should try to apply those to the extent that we could.

 

For example, when the question came, who owns the new land being created by lava from the volcano, what was the answer of your court?

 

Well, that seemed easy enough for me, but I know the beaches were needed in Hawai‘i. Without our beaches, there was no Hawai‘i to speak of, the Hawai‘i that we loved.

 

Now, in many parts of the continent, the beaches are private property, right?

 

Yes. And it seemed perfectly logical to me that people should be able to use the beaches, and that the property lines could not follow all of the methods of old England, say, and that I should try to bring those cases up in line to the way the Hawaiians did it.

 

It’s a monumental decision that affects us every day.

 

It does, and I go swimming too. And I know I can go up to a certain spot, and this is public property. And my friends and I can use it.

 

And that wasn’t the only big one you did. There were the rights of citizens to challenge land court decisions, native Hawaiian rights, and use of private property.

 

Well—

 

Water.

 

Again, I wasn’t that much of an expert on Hawaiian law. But I had a good court, and they were willing and able to go and look at all of the problems, and see what was going on. And I had traveled around the islands a lot, and you’re speaking now perhaps of water rights, which was so important, because we were a plantation community. And you get to a case like when two plantations began to argue over how much water they could have—they both needed water. But when a third one began to take too much water, to the detriment of some of the others, then you had to decide whose water should it be. The Robinson case in the end was clear to me, but it seemed revolutionary, I suppose. But the people who really needed the water were those in the bottom of the streams, the taro patch and rice patch owners. They’re the ones that needed the water. And so it seemed simple to me to just say, Well, neither of you is entitled to all of that water, it’s the people down below, the taro patch owners and the rice patch owners.

 

It’s elegantly simple. And the dean of the law school, which is named after you. Avi Soifer said, Imagine very complicated filings going on for years, big battle; and you said, Well, let’s take a look at what’s happening at the end of the line.

 

M-m. Well we were a new state, not used to following, just being a follower. We needed to decide for ourselves what was best for our people. And that’s how that one came out.

 

You took some heat over that, but—

 

I did.

 

—it became, a symbol of enlightenment, that people said, Here’s a far-thinking guy using the past to build on the future.

 

Well, of course, I’m glad to hear you say that. [chuckle] And I thought it was right. There was never any question in my own mind.

 

William S. Richardson says that, as Lieutenant Governor, he never asked or lobbied for the Chief Justice job with his boss, Governor Burns. But his wife Amy had something to say when the Governor picked up the phone and asked her about the prospect.

 

When he said, What’s this I hear about your husband being the Chief Justice? And he was silent after that; she gave him the works on that. She didn’t want me in politics anymore, and I’m sure she said to him, That would be great, he’d be out of politics if he got in as Chief Justice.

 

Not so fast. Richardson moved directly from the Lieutenant Governor’s office into leadership of the state’s highest court. Critics would say that, as head of the Judiciary, Richardson never did shake off his political ties, remaining close to the Governor and other politicians and power brokers in town. His term as Chief Justice would end with his own court selecting him for a political plum-trustee of the powerful and wealthy old Bishop Estate.

 

You know, I gotta mention one decision that your Supreme Court made, that was criticized, and that you were a part of. You were this very popular Chief Justice, who was retiring, and your court appointed you a Bishop Estate trustee. In fact, you took office a couple days after you left the CJ position. And we saw what happened with the Bishop Estate; there was this very close relationship with the Judiciary, with this private nonprofit. As you look back on those days, what do you think?

 

You mean, of the relationship between the Bishop Estate …

 

And the—

 

—and the court?

 

—Supreme Court.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, do you think the Supreme Court had any business, really, picking Bishop Estate trustees?

 

Well, I think they should, because the Supreme Court seemed to be the best arbiter.

 

M-hm. And they gave you a term that was longer than the previously mandated term; you got to serve past seventy, which was the retirement age then.

 

Well, yeah; the State retirement is seventy. But that doesn’t mean that you had to follow that. I mean, seventy is an arbitrary figure, in a way.

 

You got very involved in the Democratic Revolution of 1954, played a key role and became Hawai‘i Democratic Party Chair. But I’ve heard you refer to yourself as the token Hawaiian among that core group.

 

[chuckle]

 

Was that a joke, or were you serious?

 

I don’t know whether or not—perhaps I was token Hawaiian. But that’s not altogether true. There were other Hawaiians that were in leadership roles. I can’t remember all the names now. But it was a great group that was led by Governor Burns, who was firstly, a nobody to speak of, but he had been a police captain, and wanted to organize the party. And we met every Friday for lunch. And when the boys that went off to law school after the war came back, well, Governor Burns and I went and picked them up, and got them interested in the Democratic Party. And before we knew it, we had enough to take over the Democratic Party, and in the end I suppose the governorship and …

 

And you became Lieutenant Governor.

 

Yes; and from that, I guess he catapulted me into the chief justiceship, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

I notice you’re always ending up in these leadership or achievement positions, and you always say, I don’t know how that happened, I just kinda went along.

 

Well, that’s what happened; I went along. [chuckle] I mean, I enjoyed the work, and I didn’t mind being in the minority party at that time. I thought I was doing some good, and I thought I was doing something that would have a lasting effect.

 

I thought I was doing something that might improve the well being of all of the people of my age in Hawai‘i. And I think it turned out that way—that I thought I could help.

 

You’ve told me that your favorite job in the world has been CJ. What do you see as your legacy in that position? Clearly, your court made a number of benchmark rulings, but what do you think is the most important?

 

Well, I think I did the best I could to get the old Hawaiian way into—merged in with the American and the common law system of the past. The beaches, of course, I’m proud of that. And handling cases that involved volcanic action, that no place else in our country we’ve had.

 

Now there’s a law school named for you; the only law school in Hawai‘i is named after you.

 

Well, I must say I’m proud of it, and I’m proud of it because it means that some people that wouldn’t have had a chance to go to law school now have that opportunity.

 

At age 89 as I speak, the CJ is a regular at the William S. Richardson School of Law where he has an office and enjoys talking with the students. He says they don’t argue with him, but he respects different ideas—and anyway, it’s their future to shape now.

 

Mahalo to CJ Richardson for sharing stories with us on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox of PBS Hawai‘i. A hui hou kakou.

 

My wife lived on the same street, as a matter of fact. [chuckle]

 

I heard a story she used to tell about meeting you. I recall her saying that she met you when she was watering the yard, and you were walking by from the—

 

Yes; she’d either be watering the yard or playing the piano. And she told people, Go water your yard, you never know what might happen. [chuckle] She did say that, jokingly.

 

So childhood sweethearts.

 

I suppose you could put it that way. She was a neighbor, two blocks away. But she went to that other school. She went to Punahou, and I went to Roosevelt.