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Isle judge was historic figure

The persona of Samuel Pailthorpe King extended throughout the federal courthouse in Honolulu for decades and will reverberate for years to come. Senior District Judge King remained towering and empathetic until his death Tuesday at age 94, and his remembrance should not fade.

Hawaii’s legal community will miss his judicial expertise and his quick wit, along with his swift scolding of lawyers when they engaged in what he regarded as courtroom chicanery.

All of Hawaii will be forever beholden to him for upholding the 1967 Land Reform Act allowing residents to buy the land where their homes are located from landlords. That law, which was later reversed on appeal but subsequently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, makes it possible for single-family homeowners to buy the fee interest to their land.

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

Away from the courts, King had demonstrated that dedication a year earlier when he was the beacon among five Hawaii leaders who authored a lengthy and scathing essay, "Broken Trust," published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, criticizing major landowner Bishop Estate. The essay put a microscope to greed, mismanagement and political strings, and it led to major changes to what is now Kamehameha Schools.

"Judge King was the heart and soul of Hawaii," said Gov. Neil Abercrombie. "He was a friend and mentor to all who loved Hawaii. … His idea of what is good for Hawaii was an extension of his deep understanding of pono, of doing what’s right."

Part Hawaiian, King was the son of Samuel Wilder King, a delegate to Congress and governor of Hawaii prior to statehood and a Bishop Estate trustee before his death in 1959.

Judge King was nominated to the federal bench by President Richard Nixon in 1970 following eight years as a state circuit judge and his gubernatorial loss, running as a Republican, to Democrat John A. Burns.

From the bench, in addition to the lawsuit over the Land Reform Act, King presided over the organized crime trials of William "Nappy" Pulawa and Earl King in the 1970s and the trespass trials of Hawaiian activists who sought to halt the Navy bombing of Kahoolawe.

In 1982, King became a senior federal district judge, with a reduced court calendar. However, he continued to preside over major cases, including the trial, transferred to California because of the public attention in Hawaii, in the murder of a couple at Palmyra Island, leading to the conviction of Buck Duane Walker.

University of Hawaii law professor Randy Roth, co-author with King of the book, "Broken Trust," called his friend "a great judge" and a "great man" — and King’s family will cherish him as a great family man. For other Hawaii residents, he will be remembered as a great contributor to society on many levels through much of the 20th century.

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