William S. Richardson was remembered yesterday as a humble, down-to-earth man who "brought his Hawaiianness" to the high court.
"You don’t meet people like him," said Avi Soifer, dean of the William S. Richardson Law School at the University of Hawaii. "He was a gentle man. He was always truly beloved. He was always there to support the students."
Soifer said Richardson’s influence on Hawaii’s legal system and legal community is massive — and like no other.
"The legacy is every day," he said yesterday. "There are really incalculable ways that he’s still influential through his opinions. He made a huge difference."
Richardson’s son, Bill, said his father loved being on the bench. "He brought his Hawaiianness with him," he said. "I think he was a bit of a maverick."
Richardson said his father would undoubtedly want to be remembered for his contributions to law, but also for all he gave to the community — and for what he probably considered his crowning achievement, the establishment of the UH law school.
July 8 Respects
July 9 Public memorial
Due to limitations on parking and time at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, the Richardson family encourages members of the public to pay respects at the law school. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to "William S. Richardson — Realizing the Dream."
"I think students were his real love," said Richardson’s son, who teaches at the law school. "He was a mentor to all the students here. He was viewed as an icon."
Richardson had an office at the law school and volunteered there up until recently, talking with students about cases and offering pro bono legal counsel as part of the school’s elder law center.
Richardson’s main drive in wanting to see the law school opened was so that students from all different backgrounds — rich and poor — could get a quality legal education, his son said.
"He had an unbelievable capacity for love and mentorship," Richardson said. "I think that’s what I’m going to miss most about him."
James Burns, retired Intermediate Court of Appeals judge, said Richardson was the reason he went into law. Burns said he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, and Richardson told him to become a judge.
And Burns wasn’t the only budding lawyer or judge Richardson encouraged.
Soifer said Richardson, known as the CJ — short for chief justice — was always there at the law school’s orientation for incoming students to shake their hands. "The alumni of the school are an ongoing influence (of Richardson’s) and a very good influence because we train the right kind of lawyers," Soifer said. "He helped with that, his presence."
Bill Richardson said yesterday would have been his father’s 62nd wedding anniversary with his late wife.
• Dec. 22, 1919 Born in Honolulu
• 1941 Graduates from the University of Hawaii
• 1943 Earns law degree from the University of Cincinnati; joins Army Air Corps
• 1956 Serves as Hawaii territorial delegate to the Democratic National Convention
• 1956-1962 Serves as chair of the territorial and state Democratic Party
• 1960 Serves as the first state delegate to the Democratic National Convention
• 1963-1966 Served as lieutenant governor of Hawaii
• 1966 Appointed chief justice of the Hawaii State Supreme Court
• 1973 UH law school, later the William S. Richardson School of Law, opens
• 1982 Retires as chief justice
• 1983-1992 Serves as Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate trustee
While community leaders expressed sadness, they also hailed the legal legacy that lives on in Richardson’s decisions and through his former clerks who rose to sit on the state’s highest court.
"We lost a tremendous contributor to our community and, in particular, the Hawaiian community," former Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein said.
Klein, a clerk for Richardson in the early 1970s, later became the only other justice on the high court with Hawaiian blood.
"He gave life to Hawaiian law during the time he was chief justice," Klein said. "He was like a father to me, frankly."
"I was greatly saddened because the chief justice was not only a great jurist, but a remarkable human being," said Associate Justice Simeon Acoba, another former Richardson law clerk. "His court during his term could be called the Golden Age of Law in Hawaii.
"His court was faced with fundamental issues having to do with land rights and Hawaiian rights and other areas of law," he said. "In effect, that court was at a pivotal point in applying the new Hawaii State Constitution."
Gov. Linda Lingle’s office said she will order flags to fly at half-staff on July 9, the day of his memorial service and burial.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and Richardson were both in the forefront of the Democratic Revolution in 1954.
Inouye called Richardson his "dear friend."
"Bill believed that Hawaii belonged to everyone and fought for the public’s right to access and enjoyed everything Hawaii has to offer," Inouye said. "He was a great guy and I will miss him dearly."
Richardson’s influence went beyond legal and political circles.
Riley Wallace, former University of Hawaii basketball coach, recalls Richardson was a devout supporter who attended both home and away Rainbow games.
Wallace recalled Richardson taught him the ways of Hawaii and how to treat people.
"He was a very, very class act," Wallace said. "He will be sorely missed."