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Preserving Hawai‘i through Pro Bono Work by Goodsill Attorney Dawn T. Sugihara

Sep 23, 2008

Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel LLP, one of Hawaii’s oldest and largest law firms, is committed to its community. Goodsill demonstrated that commitment earlier this year when it saved a state charity from the threat of extinction.

Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, a non-profit corporation, is Hawaii’s leading advocate for the preservation of buildings, objects, communities and sites significant to the history of Hawai‘i. In 2004, a former officer and director of the charity filed suit against Historic Hawai‘i, alleging that Historic Hawai‘i had breached an alleged tripartite contract with his company and the National Park Service to relocate and rebuild a Maui residence of aviator Charles Lindbergh. The former director demanded specific performance of the alleged contract and damages which exceeded the net worth of the charity. Historic Hawai‘i denied that it had entered into a contract and counterclaimed against the director, alleging breach of fiduciary duty.

Very quickly, the cost of defending the lawsuit alone overwhelmed Historic Hawaii’s limited funds. In response, Goodsill entered into creative fee arrangements while it tried to dispose of the lawsuit through summary judgment. When the federal court refused to grant summary judgment and it became clear that the case would go to trial, Historic Hawai‘i faced a Hobson’s choice – continue fighting the lawsuit (until its funds were completely depleted) or dissolve. Rather than lose a noble charity that touches many in Hawai‘i, Goodsill agreed to continue defending Historic Hawai‘i, even if that meant it would not recover its fees.

In February 2008, the case went to trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawai‘i. Historic Hawai‘i was defended by a team of DRI members. Thomas Benedict led the trial team, which included Dawn Sugihara and LindaLee Farm. Jacqueline Earle and Alicia Huffman provided invaluable assistance to the trial team during the trial. After nearly three weeks of trial, the case was given to the jury.

The jury’s verdict ended the threat to Historic Hawai‘i. Following the verdict, judgment was entered in favor of Historic Hawai‘i Foundation on the claims by the former director and in favor of the director on the counterclaims, and the parties resolved the case out of court.

At Historic Hawaii’s Annual Meeting following the verdict, Goodsill was awarded Historic Hawaii’s President’s Commendation. In presenting the award, Historic Hawaii’s President Katie MacNeil noted that “Historic Hawai‘i Foundation’s current strength and bright future are a testament to Goodsill’s legal expertise and community spirit.”

Goodsill contributed over a half million dollars in fees to defend Historic Hawai‘i, so that Hawai‘i would not be deprived of its voice in the cause to save the buildings, places and sites that make our state unique.

Permission to reprint given by DRI – The Voice of the Defense Bar, 150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 300 Chicago, IL 60601 – www.dri.org.

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