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‘Great judge,’ ‘great man’

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U.S. Senior Judge Samuel P. King, in his chambers, spoke in July 2009 about the historical events that led to Hawaii's statehood. Inset, King with his wife, Anne, in 1986.
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NOV. 29, 1984: King and his wife, Anne, enjoyed a tribute conferred by his Hawaii Bar Association colleagues when he retired and assumed senior judge status.
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MAY 19, 1972: After his nomination by President Richard Nixon to a federal judgeship, King appeared with U.S. Sen. Hiram L. Fong, left, and Republican state chairwoman Carla Coray at the opening of the state GOP convention.
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OCT. 15, 1970: King, right, a candidate for governor, met incumbent Gov. John A. Burns at Maui Airport after both appeared at the Maui County Fair.
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1947: A young Samuel P. King starred in the Honolulu Community Theatre production of "All My Sons."

Samuel Pailthorpe King, a federal judge for nearly four decades who distinguished the courtroom with his wit and wisdom and who co-authored the "Broken Trust" essay that helped transform Bishop Estate, died yesterday at Kuakini Medical Center.

King, 94, died with Anne, his wife of 66 years, among the family members at his bedside.

His daughter, Louise King Lanzilotti, said her father died from head injuries after a fall on Sunday.

"It was quiet," Lanzilotti said. "He went really peacefully."

"I’ll miss him," said former state appeals Judge Walter Heen, another of the five co-authors of the "Broken Trust" essay. "I know his family will. The state should because he was a keen mind, fearless and always ready to speak up, particularly when he saw anything that smacked of dishonesty."

University of Hawaii law professor Randy Roth, who was one of the Broken Trust authors and who co-wrote the book "Broken Trust" with the judge, said King was not only a "great judge," but also a "great man."

King said in a 1998 interview, "Every judge has an obligation: If you see something wrong in the community, you speak out against it."

Gov. Neil Abercrombie released the following statement on the death of Judge King:

"Judge King was the heart and soul of Hawaii. He was a friend and a mentor to all who loved Hawaii. Judge King’s rollicking sense of humor — his deep capacity not to take himself seriously while taking Hawaii seriously– set a standard that few, if any, could match. His idea of what was good for Hawaii was an extension of his deep understanding of pono, of doing what’s right."

Born in China on April 13, 1916, when his father was a Navy gunboat captain stationed there, King lost his left eye as a child, but never let that hold him back, graduating from Punahou School and receiving undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University. He then received a waiver to serve in the Navy as a Japanese translator during World War II.

His father, Samuel Wilder King, served as a territorial delegate to Congress, governor of the territory of Hawaii and a Bishop Estate trustee before he died in 1959.

King was appointed a state circuit judge by Gov. William Quinn in 1962 and became known as "the Father of the Family Court" for helping develop the state’s modern family judicial system.


As a federal judge, Samuel P. King handled several major cases:
» Issued a landmark decision that said federal authorities need a warrant before using a telescope to peer into living rooms.
» Pioneered the expansion of the rights of the mentally ill against involuntary commitment to institutions.
» Ordered a halt to construction of the H-3 freeway.
» Upheld Hawaii’s land reform law allowing residential leaseholders to buy the land from landlords, including Bishop Estate.

In 1970, he ran for governor as a Republican, but lost to John A. Burns. "I got lucky," he used to say. "I lost."

In 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed King to the U.S. District Court, where he handled a range of high-profile cases, including the organized crime trials of Wilford "Nappy" Pulawa and Earl Kim during the 1970s.

It was during the jury selection of one of Pulawa’s trials that a potential juror said she had to leave for Maui the next day. "Here today, gone to Maui," King quipped.

Part-Hawaiian, King also presided over the trespass trials of Walter Ritte and other activists who went to Kahoolawe in an attempt to halt the Navy bombing of the island.

King also rendered a landmark decision to uphold the Hawaii Land Reform Act of 1967 allowing the owners of single-family homes to buy the fee interest in their leased land.

His decision was reversed by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"That was a huge thing," said University of Hawaii law professor David Callies.

King presided over one of Hawaii’s most infamous criminal cases — the Palmyra Island murder trials that attorney Vincent Bugliosi used as the basis for his best-selling book, "And the Sea Will Tell," which later was also a television mini-series.

King became a senior U.S. district judge in 1982, and continued handling cases on a part-time basis. He still maintained an office at the federal courthouse and continued working on cases this year.

King, Heen, Roth, and the late Gladys Brandt, a former principal of the Kamehameha School for Girls, and Monsignor Charles Kekumano wrote the "Broken Trust" essay published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in August 1997 that sent shock waves through the community.

The essay was a scathing critique of greed, mismanagement and political manipulation at the multibillion-dollar charitable trust that ran Kamehameha Schools for students of Hawaiian ancestry.

It also blasted the way the justices of the state Supreme Court chose the estate trustees.

The justices later stopped picking trustees for the estate, now known as Kamehameha Schools. Trustees are now appointed by a state probate judge.

Roth said King played a pivotal role in writing the essay.

"Without him, it probably wouldn’t have happened," Roth said. "He recognized it was going to stir up a hornet’s nest."

Roth said King had a great but compassionate sense of humor and was a devoted family man.

"He certainly had a deep understanding of Hawaiian history and culture and was fiercely proud of his own Hawaiian ancestry," he said.

At a recent ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the federal courts here, King was honored by colleagues and others for his years of service, his wit and his willingness to help colleagues and others.

He was also praised yesterday as a devoted husband and family man.

"We feel so fortunate to have gotten a chance to share our lives with mom and dad all these years," said his daughter Louise. "We’re so lucky. He was a great role model for us."

It’s a sentiment shared by many who knew him.

Roth said King was not only his best friend, but also "my role model."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

He is survived by his wife Anne; son Samuel P. King Jr.; daughters Louise King Lanzilotti and Becky King Stretch; sister, Pauline King, and six grandchildren.

Star-Advertiser reporter Leila Fujimori contributed to this report.


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