Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Judge King gracefully kept Hawaii's patterns of doing right

By Richard Borreca


It takes a place like Hawaii to produce a Sam King.

Multicultural, comfortable in his own skin, savvy and possessing the sort of community conscience developed from living on an island, King gracefully kept Hawaii's patterns of doing right.

King died Tuesday at age 94, still serving as federal judge and active author.

He was first a state judge, the founder of the Hawaii Family Court system. King ran for governor of Hawaii in 1970. His father had been governor when Hawaii was still a territory.

"King came to be regarded as a social thinker, sympathetic to the plight of juvenile delinquents, critical of the penal system and an advocate of sex education, abortion and divorce reform," Tom Coffman wrote in "Catch a Wave," a case study of Hawaii's new politics.

King was part-Hawaiian, and always would tilt toward the Hawaiian side.

"Emotionally, I'm with them," King once told Leslie Wilcox in a PBS Hawaii interview, noting that he was just three-sixteenth Hawaiian.

After he and other Hawaiian leaders wrote the articles cataloguing the improprieties at Bishop Estate, King was asked about the criticism from the trustees, including former House Speaker Henry Peters.

"His most famous saying that I know of is, 'If I did the things they wrote about in the book, I should be in jail.' And my answer to that is, 'I agree with him'," King said in an interview.

I have my own reasons to think good thoughts about Judge King. Thanks to him, the First Amendment opened a tiny bit wider for journalists and our readers.

Back in 1973, then-Mayor Frank Fasi had raised the level of his own personal war against Hawaii's two daily newspapers by barring me from attending his news conferences.

He said I was biased; I figured it was because of reporting by me and other Star-Bulletin reporters on various City Hall scandals focusing on Fasi.

The Star-Bulletin took my case to federal court and King was the judge.

During the hearing, the city argued that there is no law that forces public officials to hold news conferences.

King asked if "this was not a dangerous attitude."

"Nobody in high offices," King said, "has the privilege of preventing a person from knowing the facts."

In January of 1974, King ruled: Public officials cannot dictate which journalists attend their news conferences; doing so would amount to censorship.

"A free press is not necessarily an angelic press," wrote King, noting that politicians hold news conferences to serve their own purpose, not the public's.

"Manipulation of the news is a highly developed technique, utilizing staff news specialists, self-serving handouts, programmed appearances, and positive and negative reinforcement in dealing with reporters and news media," wrote King, who had his own experiences as a candidate for office four years earlier.

"Hand-picking those in attendance intensifies the manipulation," King said.

Years later, this less-than-angelic member of the press asked King to autograph the original copy of his decision.

He did, adding: "I'm still right."

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at


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