New documents obtained from the National Archives shed new light on former Maui Mayor Elmer Cravalho – and his high-handed use of power when challenged by the media. The documents, 78 pages of files from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were finally released by the National Archives in late October, more than two years after I first requested them through the Freedom of Information Act.
The FBI files, which date to 1975, shed new light on Cravalho’s fight in the early 1970s with the small Maui publication A New Newspaper, and its founders James Franklin and Jack Stephens, who had to contact the Bureau after problems arose with a lawsuit they filed against Cravalho. The confrontation started three years prior, when A New Newspaper published a transcript of a Civil Service Commission hearing in which private investigator Roger Marcotte admitted to trying to extort Cravalho in exchange for not revealing that he was gay – which Cravalho had vehemently denied (read more about this incident in my Oct. 12, 2016 MauiTime story “The Giant: Examining Elmer Cravalho, Maui’s Most Important Political Leader”).
In retaliation, Cravalho allegedly ordered Maui police officers to grab copies of the papers off news racks at the Kress store in Wailuku and Gate 21 restaurant at Kahului Airport. They also delivered a letter from County Attorney Arthur Ueoka to Pedro Balbag, who printed A New Newspaper (as well as every other paper on Maui), saying that printing the Marcotte testimony “will only serve to bring about irreparable injury and harm to the integrity and reputation of Mayor Cravalho” and “may subject you to personal liability for libel.”
With Balbag now refusing to print A New Newspaper, Franklin and Stephens sued Cravalho, Ueoka, Maui Police Chief Abraham Aiona, MPD Lieutenant Phillip Haake, and a few others, though not the County of Maui, in U.S. District Court. They retained attorney Boyce R. Brown, who had represented opponents of the proposed H3 freeway on O‘ahu, on a contingency basis. Lawsuit records included in the FBI files indicate that they asked for $500,000. Attorneys James Funaki and Ton Seek Pai represented Cravalho, while Herbert Shimabukuro represented Ueoka and Wallace Fujiyama, Richard Mosher, and Roy Yempuku represented the remaining defendants.
I was unable to locate either Franklin or Stephens for this story (Cravalho died in 2016). But I did succeed in tracking down Brown. Now living in Texas, he was surprised to hear that Stephens and Franklin had tried to bring the FBI into the affair. Though the lawsuit took place more than four decades ago, Brown vividly remembered many details – with one fascinating exception I’ll get to later.
“Cravalho was sending cops around to pull their papers off the stands!” Brown told me when I asked him why he took the case. “You can’t have that. I took the case because you can’t have cops going around confiscating papers when they print unflattering things.”
[Disclosure: In late October 2009, MauiTime Publisher Tommy Russo learned that county employees had confiscated copies of this paper from a newsrack in the Kalana O Maui Building. The offending issue’s cover had an unflattering illustration of then-Mayor Charmaine Tavares. MauiTime denounced the act in a subsequent issue, but elected not to sue.]
By early 1975, Brown and the other attorneys had agreed to a settlement figure of $51,000. It was apparently agreed upon on Feb. 12, 1975, but that’s when problems arose. In a March 19, 1975 letter to the Hawai‘i Attorney General’s office, Franklin and Stephens outlined their issues with the settlement.
“This was first told to Franklin in the offices of Mattoch, Kemper & Brown in the early afternoon of Wednesday, February 12, 1975, when Brown, in relaying the terms of Defendants’ proposed settlement, stated that the Defendant’ attorneys had informed him (Brown) that they would make a settlement agreement and then get the money appropriated by the Maui County Council,” stated the letter. “Brown expressed to Franklin the opinion that it would not be legal for the County to pay this and that he (Brown) was concerned that Franklin and Stephens could later be required by action of law to return such improperly paid money.”
Given that Franklin and Stephens were suing Cravalho and the rest for their actions as private citizens, it would have been highly improper for the County of Maui – and by extension, Maui taxpayers – to pay any settlement. After all, not suing the County had been a deliberate move by Brown.
“It wasn’t a county action,” Brown said by phone from Texas, where he lives today. “Also, if I sued the county, taxpayers would pick up the bill.”
In their letter to the AG, Franklin and Stephens expressed both awe and fear at Cravalho. “Franklin expressed to Brown that he thought Defendant Elmer Cravalho (the Mayor of Maui County) had such control of the Maui County Council that he could obtain money whether legal or illegal,” they wrote. “Brown said if Cravalho had such control over the Maui County Council, Cravalho might even have the Council say that they would only pay, for example, $30,000 in settlement.”
But Brown soon found himself on the outs with his own clients. According to the letter to the AG’s office, Brown had recommended that Franklin and Stephens take the deal. For that, they said, they fired Brown.
Brown recalls it differently. “We reached a settlement,” he told me. “They approved the settlement amount. Then they decided they could keep it all if they fired me, because I was on a contingent basis. They weren’t the first people who thought of that.”
According to Brown, he calculated that the money they owed him from all the work he’d already completed eclipsed their settlement money, so they eventually un-fired him. “You can fire a lawyer any time you want,” he said. “But a lawyer has a right to be paid for the work he’s done.”
Now considering their attorney to be part of a vast “conspiracy,” Franklin and Stephens wrote to Judge Samuel King, who was presiding over the case, on March 3, 1975 (a little over two decades later, King co-authored the famous “Broken Trust” essay that called for reform of the Bishop Estate). They outlined their concerns over the settlement, as well as their dissatisfaction with Brown. King wrote back the same day, saying there wasn’t much he could do, but if they felt strongly about all this, then they should alert both the Hawai‘i Attorney General’s office and the FBI.
Which they did. According to the FBI files, in late March 1975 the Bureau compiled all the lawsuit documents and correspondence Franklin and Stephens sent them and forwarded it all to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
I could find no evidence that the U.S. Attorney did anything with the matter.
For his part, Brown was surprised to hear that Franklin and Stephens had written to Judge King and went to the FBI during settlement negotiations. But he was certain that a settlement was ultimately reached in the case, and that they paid him what he was owed. Though Brown also said he couldn’t recall where the settlement money came from.
Looking back on the case, Brown expressed sincere admiration for the attorneys he was arrayed against.
“Attorney Wally Fujiyama – that guy could try a case like you wouldn’t believe,” Brown said. “Those guys were good. Wally deposed my guys for 11 straight hours. It was like the world’s best training ground for taking a deposition. It wasn’t fun at the time but it was great training. Cravalho just called in his chips [to get his attorneys]. They were all honorable guys.”
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