Courts - Hawaii Former Hawaii Chief Justice Richardson dies Judge played integral role in shaping state's legal landscape

By Mark Niesse

Associated Press Writer

HONOLULU (AP) -- Former Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice William S. Richardson, who pushed for statehood and became one of Hawaii's most influential figures, has died. He was 90.

Richardson, the namesake for the University of Hawaii's law school, died early Monday of apparent natural causes, said his son, Bill Richardson.

"He wanted to make a difference," Bill Richardson said. "He was an incredibly kind and loving man. As much as the public figure was displayed, he was even more loving as a father, family member and mentor for law students."

Richardson led Hawaii's emerging Democratic Party from 1956 to 1962 in its efforts to promote statehood and overturn decades of Republican leadership.

After Hawaii became a state in 1959 and elected John Burns as its first Democratic governor in 1962, Richardson served one term as lieutenant governor, becoming the first person of Hawaiian ancestry to hold that office.

"The former chief justice played an integral role in shaping Hawaii's political and legal landscape," said Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican.

Nicknamed "CJ" for chief justice, Richardson will best be remembered for his "unwavering advocacy" for the establishment of the law school at the University of Hawaii, which later bore his name as the William S. Richardson School of Law when it opened in 1973.

Richardson earned a business degree at the University of Hawaii and a law degree at the University of Cincinnati.

In his 16 years leading the state Supreme Court, Richardson oversaw judgments assuring public beach access, expanding Native Hawaiian rights to use private property and affirming public ownership of water and other natural resources.

"His court literally defined Hawaii for today's world," said former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor. "It laid the foundation for many outstanding issues facing our islands."

Before his legal and political career, Richardson fought in World War II. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and later served as platoon leader with the 1st Filipino Infantry Regiment in combat operations in Leyte, Philippines.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said they became friends shortly after he returned from World War II and began their political careers.

"He worked tirelessly as a champion of all of Hawaii's people," Inouye said. "Bill believed that Hawaii belonged to everyone and fought for the public's right to access and enjoy everything Hawaii has to offer. He was a great guy and I will miss him dearly."

Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, said Richardson's influence in interpreting the laws is still strongly felt today.

"CJ's life of public service has been an inspiration to many who today serve as lawyers and judges, elected office holders and community service leaders," he said.

Richardson is survived by three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for July 9.

Published: Wed, Jun 23, 2010