Jon M. Van Dyke, who was a law professor at the UH Richardson School of Law and an internationally respected human rights attorney, died on Monday in Australia, in his sleep, while attending a conference on international ocean law. He was 68.
Van Dyke joined the faculty of the Richardson School of Law at its opening in 1976 where he taught constitutional law, international law, human rights and ocean law. He was also a law clerk for California Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Traynor after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1967.
He was intimately involved in the 1978 Constitutional Convention and advised on the establishment of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
In the 1990s, he represented the Maui County Council when it sued former Mayor Linda Lingle for hiring her then husband and other private attorneys with taxpayer money to represent her and other county officials in litigation without getting Council approval. In the case, Maui County Council v. Thompson, the Supreme Court ruled that Lingle violated the Maui County Charter by failing to obtain Council approval.
One of his most important cases nationally and internationally was the lawsuit he and his wife Sherry Broder filed against the late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in Honolulu. They represented more than 9,500 Filipinos who were either murdered or tortured by Marcos during and after the martial law period. In 1995, they obtained a $2 billion judgment, the largest judgment of its kind.
“The collection process has been extremely difficult” Van Dyke told Honolulu Civil Beat earlier this year, “As soon as we locate assets that are attributable to Marcos, the Philippine government has shown up and said, ‘These have been stolen from us, this is ill-gotten wealth and, therefore, they owe it to us.”
Over the years, Van Dyke would express puzzlement over the manner in which the Philippine government would obstruct and interfere in the victims being compensated.
“The Philippine government has an ongoing obligation to the victims,” Van Dyke said. “Just because it was a previous evil dictator doesn’t mean they don’t have the obligation to the victims who have suffered under the previous government. We’ve tried to explain that a zillion times but the Philippine government is totally in denial, and has been totally irresponsible about addressing the plight of these poor victims.”
Nevertheless, Van Dyke was a kind and gentle man who was full of enthusiasm for how the law could be used to assist humans in living peacefully together and peacefully in their environment.
Van Dyke wrote several books including Who Owns the Crown Lands of Hawaii? (University of Hawai’i Press, 2008) and represented the Native Hawaiian community in several important cases. He also extensively advised Pacific Island governments on matters of constitutional and international law. On Maui, he most recently served as a legal analyst with his wife for the Maui Charter Review Commission.
“Jon’s passing is a lesson in treasuring every moment with those you love and admire,” said Governor Neil Abercrombie. “His loss will be deeply felt.”
He was well loved by his students for his easy-going, inquisitive, and collaborative approach to learning. It earned him many teaching awards. I recall in my first Constitutional Law class with him, I would always try to think of unusual fact patterns that the legal principle he was discussing was unable to assist–sometimes to the annoyance of my peers. He never failed to go over to his folders and surprise all of us–by pulling out a transparency or two for the projector illustrating just that unusual fact pattern in real life and how the constitution was being used to address such unusual injuries somewhere in the US or the world. Not only had he anticipated unusual applications of the law, he was prepared to discuss it with materials from the real world in class.
He is survived by his wife Sherry Broder and their children, Jesse, Michelle and Eric.