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Former Honolulu judge lived a life that mattered

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  • JAMM AQUINO / 2019
                                Arthur S.K. Fong met his wife Victoria K.Y. Chun Fong, right, while studying at the University of Michigan. Fong died Feb. 23 at age 95.

    JAMM AQUINO / 2019

    Arthur S.K. Fong met his wife Victoria K.Y. Chun Fong, right, while studying at the University of Michigan. Fong died Feb. 23 at age 95.

Honolulu attorney and former state Circuit Court Judge Arthur S.K. Fong died peacefully Feb. 23 after receiving last rites, surrounded by his family, said his son Peter Fong.

Born Dec. 5, 1924, in Honolulu, Fong was 95 years old.

“He was a very intelligent, generous man, a great attorney and a good settlement judge, very productive in moving his cases along,” said longtime friend Ronald T.Y. Moon, former Chief Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

“His nickname was jitters, I think because he walked faster than anybody else — he would leave you in the dust.”

In addition, Fong “had a great sense of humor he would use in his court to kind of settle down the tempers that flared in disputes,” Moon said, recounting his own trepidation as a young lawyer when his boss suddenly sent him to appear in Fong’s court without the coat and tie the judge famously required. He was fined a box of donuts.

“He was a good man,” Moon said. “I will miss him.”

As a child growing up in Nuuanu, Fong attended Central Intermediate School until his parents transferred him to Saint Louis School where added structure, they hoped, would benefit their “undisciplined, wild kid who ran around with the wrong crowd,” Fong told his biographer Jerry Burris in “Judge Arthur S.K. Fong: Living a Life That Matters.”

After graduating from Saint Louis in 1942, Fong served in the U.S. Army and earned his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Michigan, where he also earned his law degree and a master’s degree in business administration and met another student from Honolulu, Victoria K.Y. Chun, who became his wife.

Before being appointed to the circuit court by Gov. John A. Burns, Fong served as a deputy Honolulu prosecutor and deputy Hawaii attorney general.

As a judge, Fong’s high-­profile cases included the eviction trials of Waiahole Valley and Waikane Valley farmers brought by the McCandless Estate, which planned suburban developments. In his biography, Burris notes that, while Fong ruled in favor of the landowner, he kept extending the final eviction date, and meanwhile in 1977 an agreement was struck in which the state bought the valleys to perpetuate farming there.

In 1978, Fong presided over Waiahole Valley taro farmers’ demand that the Board of Water Supply restore water diverted since 1916 from Waihee stream. His decision that the resource be shared, allowing 2.3 million gallons daily back into the stream, was appealed by both parties and jurisdiction was eventually moved to a newly created state water board.

In a 1979 ruling that the state Health Department had to release files regarding a water pollution incident that it had withheld from the media, Fong wrote concerning government officials, “The more we allow ourselves to be investigated, (the more it ensures) Watergates will not happen.”

In 1982, Gov. George Ari­yoshi nominated Fong to the state Intermediate Court of Appeals, but the nomination was challenged before the Senate Judiciary Committee by attorneys who accused Fong of favoritism in his appointments of foreclosure commissioners.

The Honolulu Advertiser reported that leading Honolulu trial lawyers and judges testified in support of Fong, who said that, while some of his appointees were his friends and relations, his choices were made exclusively according to their merit. However, he withdrew his name from consideration.

After leaving the bench in 1984, Fong practiced for more than 30 years with his son, attorney Peter Fong, in their law firm Fong &Fong, and traveled worldwide.

His many community activities included directorships at Hawaii National Bank, the Hawaii State Bar Association and Honolulu Chinese Jaycees, and serving as vice-president of Saint Louis Educational Foundation and as president of Waialae Country Club, where he tee’d off every Saturday at 7 a.m. and every Sunday morning after church with his wife and friends.

He practiced speed golf, finishing every round in three hours or less.

Fong and his wife were avid fans of music and the arts, including Hawaii Opera Theatre, and daughter Wendy Fong said that, when she and her siblings were children, her parents regularly took them and neighbor children to the Waikiki Shell to picnic on the grass and watch performers such as Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev .

Every Sunday, Peter Fong said, his father would shop in Chinatown and cook dinner for the entire family.

Fong is survived by his wife and their seven children: Wendy Tsou (Richard), Peter Fong, Valerie Chang (Glenn), Andrew Fong (Jenifer), Carolyn Chang (Hubert), Mary Nakamoto (Dean), Daniel Fong (Corrie), 15 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services will be held Saturday, March 14, at Star of the Sea Church, 4470 Aliikoa St., with visitation from 9-11:30 a.m., followed by Mass; burial will follow at Diamond Head Memorial Park.

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