Practicing in Paradise
Sure, their offices may be surrounded by sugar sand and swaying palms, but when it’s time to head to court, these lawyers mean business
Published in 2008 Hawaii Super Lawyers magazine
on September 1, 2008
Updated on July 15, 2019
On islands bathed in sunshine, cooled by plumeria-scented trade winds and ribboned by golden beaches, who wants to sit in an office reviewing a breach-of-contract appeal? Paradise it may be, but for Hawaii attorneys, this is the real world, complete with lawsuits and courtrooms. For them, the Aloha State is not only a great place to live, but the ideal environment for practicing law. In a state with fewer than 1.3 million people, the legal population is also small. That means closer, more casual working relationships. “You may play sports with your adversaries, and everyone knows they’ll meet again,” says Honolulu First Amendment attorney Jeffrey Portnoy. Attorneys on the Hawaii Super Lawyers list know they could make more money in New York or L.A., but here, they have time for other passions—gardening, surfing, theater, hiking, sports and family time. And after all, reviewing a breach-of-contract appeal on a laptop in the shade of a palm tree isn’t so bad.
Whether it’s protecting a native cultural site, seeking justice for victims of political violence or making sure an ape has a proper roof over its head, Sherry Broder gives her all.
Just ask Rusti the orangutan. Rescued in 1997 from a roadside zoo, Rusti was temporarily brought to the Honolulu Zoo, where an old gorilla cage was available. For more than seven years, humans dithered while Rusti languished. Several plans for moving the 300-pound ape fell through.
“When I said I’d agree to do this case pro bono, I figured it would be a no-brainer,” says Broder, whose practice focuses on civil litigation and class-action lawsuits and who is better known for mega-settlements than for representing apes. “I never thought it would take several years.” She negotiated on behalf of the Orangutan Foundation International, which wanted to make sure Rusti got comfortable new digs.
Through Broder’s efforts and the support of Rusti supporters, funds were raised to build a spacious $665,000 habitat. Rusti was joined three years ago by a 20-something companion named Violet.
More typically, Broder is busy adding to the string of national awards she’s won during a three-decade-plus career. By the time she became the first female president of the Hawaii State Bar Association in 1993, she had established herself as one of the most sought-after lawyers in the islands.
Born in Maine, Broder graduated in the top 10 percent at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in 1975, then moved to Hawaii with her husband, attorney Jon M. Van Dyke, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s law school. For Broder and her husband, like so many malihini to Hawaii, one year became two, then five, then 10 …
Thirty-three years later, Broder, now the mother of three adult children, loves Hawaii as much as ever.
During her first three years in Hawaii, Broder worked as an attorney at the state Legislature and as deputy chief attorney for the 1978 Hawaii Constitutional Convention, at which a number of changes were made to the state constitution. Soon after, she opened the Law Offices of Sherry P. Broder.
Her largest case involved a suit against the estate of former Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos on behalf of 10,000 civilian victims of torture, disappearance and execution. Working with her husband and Philadelphia lawyer Robert Swift, Broder has persisted for 22 years, litigating from Singapore to Hong Kong to four Western states. Broder says the 1995 judgment for $2 billion “holds a dictator accountable and fulfills the goal we sought in 1986 when Ferdinand Marcos fled to Honolulu from the Philippines.”
The collection process has so far yielded several million dollars.
In another major case, Broder advocated on behalf of 850,000 consumers—a large percentage of Hawaii’s population—who, in the early 1980s, unknowingly drank milk contaminated with heptachlor, a pesticide used by pineapple growers who sold the tops of harvested pineapples as “green chop” to dairies on Oahu to be used as cattle feed. Because any health issues might not arise for years, the case was tried as a breach of contract, with the $4 million settlement used to establish a nonprofit independent foundation to study the largely unknown health effects of the pesticide.
Broder has always found ways to combine her passions for the law and travel. She and her husband have lectured on international environmental law, human rights law and other legal issues affecting indigenous peoples in Korea, Japan and the Republic of Palau. In between trips, she can be found riding the surf, attending the opera and weeding her garden.
The core of Broder’s work is civil litigation at the trial and appellate levels. She is experienced in working with native Hawaiian cases. Last year, Broder represented the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in challenging the development of luxury homes on Kauai that threatened an estimated 600-year-old Hawaiian archaeological site. The developer withdrew. The lesson? Don’t monkey around with Sherry P. Broder.
It’s not that Doug Ing hasn’t tried life on the mainland. He has—with some enthusiasm—during college, a stint in the Navy and law school. But the islands ultimately drew the Oahu native back.
In his office meeting room 23 stories high, with a view stretching from Honolulu’s Aloha Tower Marketplace to Diamond Head volcano on Oahu, Ing, 64, speaks in mellow tones about earlier times.
“I studied electrical engineering at the University of Washington, where I graduated in June of 1966. I was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy on graduation day,” Ing recalls. Then it was on to submarine school, then service aboard a nuclear-powered sub, based on Pearl Harbor. Ing left the Navy in 1971 with the rank of lieutenant.
He wasn’t sure what to do next but wanted a more people-oriented career. Shadowing old school friends who’d taken up law prompted Ing to apply for law school at the University of Denver. It had a good reputation, and he wanted a taste of the Rockies.
“I soon realized that Colorado has far more appeal as a winter vacation destination than as a year-round home, besides being a long way from the nearest surf,” notes Ing, an avid surfer at the time.
Following his encounter with the cold, Ing returned to Oahu, where he worked for an administrative judge. In 1976, he joined his current firm, now called Watanabe Ing & Komeiji. For four years, he practiced civil litigation, then in 1980 his firm developed a practice in administrative and regulatory law, which became his focus.
In the early 1980s, Ing represented the largest interstate water carrier, Young Brothers, before the Public Utilities Commission. He also represented the owner of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in developing water and rezoning the land surrounding the destination resort, and he is assisting Kukuiula Development Company, which is building Hawaii’s largest luxury housing project on Kauai.
Ing can’t seem to get enough of land use law. He serves on public boards and commissions, and was appointed to the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, which regulates environmentally sensitive areas like Kauai’s rugged Na Pali Coast, Mauna Kea and submerged lands in state waters.
In the late 1990s, Ing found himself at the heart of one of Hawaii’s most controversial trials. He represented trustees of the Bernice P. Bishop Estate, which funds the Kamehameha Schools, a charitable institution endowed in 1887 by Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great-granddaughter of King Kamehameha I, to provide a first-rate education for native Hawaiians. The Bishop Estate is Hawaii’s largest private landholder, with assets valued at about $9 billion, including more than 360,000 acres.
In a case dubbed “Broken Trust,” Ing successfully represented five interim trustees in removing the other trustees, who were accused of failing to properly manage the trust’s assets. A year later, he was asked to serve as a trustee. Ing has plenty of experience not only serving on boards but coming before them with requests. Real estate everywhere is local, he says, so it’s crucial to understand the community to win your case. “It means devoting oneself to public service and becoming an integral member of the community,” says Ing.
Growing up surrounded by water, Ing used to be an active surfer and canoe sailor, paddling between the islands. Today, he jokes he has been “relegated to the gentrified life of elderly golf.” Ing and his wife, Tekla, have raised four children and enjoy traveling to neighbor islands.
In Ing’s words, “I’m not a Vegas guy.” He has tasted the mainland and is happy to stick with the culture and beauty of Hawaii.
A photograph on the wall of Honolulu attorney Jeffrey Portnoy’s office shows the now-famous image of a lone man standing defiantly before four Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square during pro-democracy protests in 1989.
It was taken by one of his clients, Pulitzer Prize finalist Jeff Widener, now a staff photographer for the Honolulu Advertiser. Portnoy has handled several matters for Widener, including a major motion picture company’s use of a character Widener believes was based on him. The company paid an undisclosed amount after Portnoy filed a lawsuit on Widener’s behalf.
The iconic photo is fitting décor for a lawyer who has spent nearly four decades on First Amendment cases. It is surrounded by framed Charles Bragg caricatures, a mounted salmon Portnoy caught in Alaska (Portnoy’s wife won’t allow it in the house) and an ESPN gift shop’s worth of sports paraphernalia, ranging from Super Bowl tickets to boxing gloves signed by Muhammad Ali.
In Portnoy’s office, a maple floor and mounted basketball hoop re-create his favorite surroundings. When he’s not before the court, Portnoy is watching the court. He was a radio commentator for University of Hawaii basketball for 14 years. Now he hosts a local weekly three-hour morning radio sports call-in show.
Portnoy’s client list includes a who’s who of Hawaiian newspapers, publishers and television and radio stations. Besides representing the Honolulu Community Media Council and the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, Portnoy wrote a textbook on Hawaii media law and taught college journalism students for six years.
Although Portnoy, 61, has earned a national reputation for his First Amendment cases, they account for about only 5 percent of his trial work. But these cases are special, he says, because they transcend the issues and people involved in a single dispute.
“It’s one area of law where you can leave a legacy,” Portnoy says.
He recently represented the Honolulu Advertiser in a case in which the University of Hawaii was accused of trying to conceal records containing the names of UH staffers being given trips to the 2008 Sugar Bowl. The suit settled and the school released the names.
Portnoy describes his practice as “very eclectic,” adding that the other 95 percent is defending companies and individuals accused of professional errors and omissions, including malpractice, employment, product liability and toxic torts.
Since 1972, Portnoy has been with Cades Schutte, one of Hawaii’s preeminent law firms, and served as president of the Hawaii State Bar Association in 2007.
He and his wife, Sandi, a travel agent, love to roam. He has been to every state except North Dakota and has crisscrossed the globe. But when he wants to relax and “do nothing,” Portnoy and his wife go to their home in Kamuela on Hawaii Island.
“We’re 2,800 feet up, looking out at the horses on Parker Ranch, watching the rain come in. My wife does jig-saw puzzles. It’s just very relaxing.”
L. Richard Fried
In the late 1960s, as L. Richard Fried finished flight-navigation school for the Arizona Air Guard, he was asked if he wanted to go to Hawaii. It sounded better than another summer in Arizona, where he grew up, so he signed up for the transfer.
The Vietnam War was on, and Fried flew a cargo plane for the U.S. Air Force, alternating between bases in Asia and Hawaii. When he returned to Hawaii, he transferred to the Hawaii Air National Guard. With a law degree under his belt (obtained from the University of Arizona in 1966), Fried went for an interview that yielded an $800-a-month offer as an associate with Honolulu firm Pratt, Moore, Bortz and Case, which has been around since the late 1800s.
Fried was admitted to the Hawaii State Bar in 1968 and in 1973 co-founded his firm, now called Cronin, Fried, Sekiya, Kekina & Fairbanks, which has grown from four to 17 lawyers, with 50 employees in all.
During four decades in a practice that focuses on medical malpractice cases, but includes personal injury, product liability and aviation law, Fried, 67, claims he is “just starting to figure it out,” while acknowledging his firm has had “pretty good results over the years.”
That’s one way to put it. Fried has landed more than 50 verdicts and settlements in excess of $1 million from medical malpractice suits.
“It gives me great joy to represent people who have been victims of corporate arrogance or [of] those who don’t do what they should,” says Fried. He cites a case in which a baby was massively brain-damaged after being given carbon dioxide instead of oxygen by a pediatrician at Tripler Army Medical Center. In 2006, a federal judge awarded $16.5 million to the child’s family, which resides in San Antonio, Texas.
Fried currently represents a Samoan woman who arrived at the Honolulu Airport from American Samoa with her 14-day-old son and a nurse, only to be detained in a locked room by U.S. Immigration officials who questioned the woman’s entry documents, which Fried says turned out to be in order. Rather than going directly to Kapiolani Medical Center for scheduled medical treatment for the baby, who was born with a hole in his heart, the three were delayed as the baby’s condition worsened. The child died later that morning.
Fried has also handled aviation cases, including a 1989 incident in which a United Airlines 747 flying from Honolulu to New Zealand experienced a cargo-door failure, resulting in the deaths of nine passengers. Fried’s clients were survivors who suffered post-traumatic stress and were awarded between $600,000 and $900,000.
Though Fried has forged his career in Hawaii, he has tried a number of personal injury cases on the mainland. That transition, he says, is relatively straightforward. On the other hand, he notes, a lawyer coming to Hawaii who is unfamiliar with local culture and language might experience difficulties with Hawaiian or pidgin terms—a mixture of languages—used in the courtroom.
“When the pidgin starts flying, I’ve seen blank expressions on the faces of lawyers from the mainland,” Fried says.
The terminology may be different, but the work ethic, he says, is the same. “Some may be surprised to learn we work every bit as hard as lawyers on the mainland,” says Fried, who is always in his office on Saturdays. When he comes in on Sundays, he finds other partners also working, while the rest of Hawaii is at the beach.
Away from the office, Fried enjoys snow skiing as a break from the tropics and is active on the boards of the Hawaii Theatre Center, Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Honolulu Symphony, and is an adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union. He spends his free time on the tennis court, joking that he peaked when he was 12. Fried calls himself a “decent old man’s player.” The U.S. Tennis Association begs to differ, having ranked him as high as No. 3 nationally in his age group.