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Land titles expert wrote ‘Mahele’ book


Jon J. Chinen, a retired federal bankruptcy judge regarded as a leading expert on Hawaiian land titles, died April 14 in Honolulu after an illness. He was 91.

He wrote three books on Hawaiian land titles, including "The Great Mahele: Hawaii’s Land Division of 1848," which was published in 1958 and is still relied upon by attorneys, real estate brokers, students and government agencies.

Chinen was first appointed as a bankruptcy referee in 1976, according to the federal judiciary. He was the first judge appointed to the newly created Bankruptcy Court for the District of Hawaii in 1984 and reappointed in 1986. He retired in 1992, but was recalled as bankruptcy judge, serving from 1993 to 2000.

He presided over some noteworthy bankruptcies during the 1980s, including that of Mid Pacific Air, South Pacific Island Airways and THC Financial Corp.

Chief Bankruptcy Judge Robert Faris said of Chinen, "He was a wonderful role model for me and all the other lawyers who worked in his court.

"He was a consummate gentleman. He was always courteous to lawyers and parties, and he always showed the parties that he took their cases seriously. He had an exceptional work ethic."

After receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Hawaii in 1941, he enlisted in the Army during World War II and served in Italy with the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

After his military service, Chinen earned his law degree from the University of Michigan. He began his legal career in 1953 as a deputy territorial attorney general and was a per diem state district judge from 1960 to 1976.

Chinen is survived by wife, Winnie, sons Marshall and Allan and four grandchildren.

A private family service is planned. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Judge Jon J. Chinen Fund at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii. The address is 2515 Dole St., Honolulu, HI 96822-2350.

Condolence messages may be sent to Marshall D. Chinen, 550 Halekauwila St., Suite 300, Honolulu, HI 96813.

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