My lawsuit against Pohl for indemnification or contribution had to proceed.
Pohl counterclaimed against me for their fees and damages—because I sued them. I was resigned—they would do everything to stop me from pursuing my rights. And would do so comfortably. They had insurance and wouldn’t spend a dime. They were rich and powerful. That was public knowledge.
My suspicion resurfaced. There were some things that my legal enemies wanted hidden at the expense of my total destruction. Was the federal default judgment already collected in Japan, after all? When? Who shared in the spoils? Whose pockets were full?
My case of Dominguez versus Price Okamoto Himeno & Lum, a Law Corporation, was called “Pohl lawsuit or Pohl case” by all involved to distinguish it from the malpractice lawsuit pending appeal.
The Pohl case was then assigned to Judge Elizabeth Hifo. I checked the court records. Her official assignment happened twice, not just once. I wondered if there was an influential group who made certain that Hifo would be the judge in the Pohl case. How did they succeed twice? Do they have rapport with the assigning authorities?
Then I recalled how Judge Marks suddenly replaced the original judge in the malpractice case. Yet, she was the wife of a partner in the Pohl firm I sued. And I had to go through that ugly recusal hearing for her to step aside when everything was too late.
Months passed by. Then the settlement conference arrived. It was a routine judicial procedure to see if the Pohl lawsuit could be resolved and trial avoided. Any hope to settle was the least in my mind. If Pohl never helped me before, there was no reason they would do so now.
As I proceeded to Judge Hifo’s court, I didn’t know what to expect. I was fighting high political figures linked to the judiciary in many ways. And I just barely survived the execution orders of Judge Marks, the wife of a partner of Pohl, the law firm I sued.
Minutes passed. Finally, Judge Hifo got out of her chambers, smiled at everyone, took a few steps toward me and in all humility, said, “Please come in, Ms. Dominguez.”
I thought, “How nice of her. She could have her clerks do that, but she did not.” Then she pushed the door. As soon as the door closed, she gently stroked the collar of my blouse, and hugged me so lightly.
It was shocking. I was not prepared for such informality in a dignified Hall of Justice. Was the judge mistaking me for a politician? Her hand was still on my suit as she whispered, “I believe you…I understand…
Our discussion was uncomplicated. The documents were clearly informative. Then with obvious hesitation, Judge Hifo asked if she could inquire about things that were not directly the subject of the conference.
“Fine with me, Your Honor…I will tell you all you wish to know. You have also access to the court records,” I said.
She glanced at the door, obviously making sure it was closed. Very cautiously, she asked if my main defense of alien versus alien in the uncollected federal default judgment was somehow brought up in my malpractice trial.
She said, “I read the records. I commend you for your intricate analysis. That jurisdictional defense would have wiped out your malpractice case immediately. Did your lawyers bring that up?”
“No, Your Honor.”
“My, my,” she mumbled. “Did you, at least, address that in your appellate briefs?
“Yes, Judge. My appeal briefs were clear. In that federal case, the plaintiffs—husband and wife—were Filipino citizens and the defendant Japan company who sold the noodle machine that injured the wife had no branch in the U.S.—a purely alien lawsuit where U.S. courts have no jurisdiction to decide.”
Judge Hifo was intently listening. “Yes, yes…no subject matter jurisdiction,” she softly mumbled. “How true…true…that federal judgment was void and meant nothing…you should have never gone to a malpractice trial…sad, sad.”
“Too bad that you had no malpractice insurance. It must be terrible to be in your situation.
“Judge, Pohl eventually agreed that I didn’t need malpractice insurance. My record was clean and they were in control of our cases as our contract said. Instead, they literally deleted my name from their policy without informing me.”
“My, my,” mumbled Judge Hifo. “Well, Ms. Dominguez, you’re now in a different stage and I am the judge. I will do what is right and legal, don’t worry. Both sides should be ready with their evidence.”
“Everyone is fighting me so bitterly. It seems that something is being concealed that I shouldn’t find out,” I added.
“Oh? What’s being concealed, Ms. Dominguez?”
“I don’t know exactly, Judge. Pohl aligned themselves with my opponents in the malpractice case. But the truth will be clear during the trial before you. I promise you that.”
Judge Hifo’s forehead wrinkled. She was looking extremely concerned. Then she asked, “Is it alright, Ms. Dominguez, if we remove the confidentiality of this conference? I’ll tell them what you said, and I’ll tell you what they said. We could function better that way. Nothing is confidential in this case.”
“Whatever you think is best, Judge,” I said. “I don’t see any defense to this Pohl lawsuit unless forged and fabricated. Forgive my description. We were partners in every legal sense.”
Then, she suggested that I divulge everything I had in mind. “I will understand both sides better,” was her assurance.
Anything I had in mind? How kind and liberal.
“I feel severely betrayed,” I said. “My attorneys backed up Judge Marks. However, there was no record that before the malpractice jury trial, she disclosed her spousal relationship in the Pohl firm. I would never agree to her as my judge. Never, never, never!”
Judge Hifo reached out for my hand across the table and said so gently, “Everything will be alright…I will be fair…I will be fair…everything will be alright…I will apply the law…I believe in the merits of your case.”
She stood up and asked me to step out of her chambers. It was the turn of Sharon Himeno and her attorneys to confer with her.
Everyone was solemn while we waited. The court reporter arrived. He set up his machine a few feet away from the conference table.
Judge Hifo began her disclosures: She and Sharon Himeno belonged to the same social club and would have regular meetings. She was present at the wedding of Sharon and Warren Price, the recent Attorney General. It was her privilege to be invited—honored to attend with hundreds of guests. She glowed, as if she was describing a wedding of a President of the United States on TV.
“And I also know Ms. Dominguez because she’s a practicing attorney. I believe I successfully settled two of her cases,” she said, and she also smiled at me.
I thought, “Yeah, yeah, I’m just a practicing attorney…no spectacular wedding…no Royal Hawaiian outfit and tiki torches…who really cares…the law is the law. And since I never met her before, the judge must be referring to my cases that she settled through my past associates.”
The judge assessed everyone’s reaction. All throughout, she was looking at me so gently, slightly nodding her head. I knew her silent message. “Ms. Dominguez, don’t worry, I will do the right thing. I’m here to help. I know what you went through.”
Judge Hifo claimed that she had to make full disclosures because she just found out the players involved.
She just found out? She was in the case for some months now, the names of the players were all there. Perhaps, she was just embarrassed to disclose earlier.
Then, she said that before she became a judge, she worked in a law firm where Roy Chang was a partner.
I was astonished. Roy was one of her bosses in a law firm? Roy Chang who betrayed me? Oh, my God! I just insulted his poor performance! And he was her boss?
But the judge quickly explained that her relationship with Roy Chang, Sharon Himeno and Warren Price did not matter. She did not, and would never discuss the case with them.
O’Brien, the main attorney who sued me, was one of the many witnesses listed by Pohl. I had to take his oral deposition.
His testimony revealed something that I believed hardly happens in a dignified law firm run by esteemed political figures—attired in coat and tie, discussing laws instead of personal matters.
O’Brien didn’t use the word “gossip.” But he testified that in a social conference, the Pohl partners called me “crazy” and continued to humiliate me and my legal practice. As if I was so far beneath them as a practicing lawyer in the Halls of American justice.
The deposition transcript shows verbatim, word for word:
“THE WITNESS (MR. O’BRIEN): Well, one of the things that Mr. Price said was that he thought you crazy.
Q. (MS. DOMINGUEZ): Obviously, I was not there to defend me, right?
A. You were not party to the conversation.”
Pohl had nothing good to say of me. Not even my long hours of toiling for our past venture. They did not call me crazy then—when they were paid huge fees from our joint clients.
I had to take the testimony of a few members of their staff. Most were my employees for many years in the Dominguez Law Offices before it was completely absorbed by Pohl. It was heartbreaking to come face-to-face in this adversarial situation.
I could sense their loyalty to me as they responded to my questions. They knew what was true and what was a dirty lie, but their fear of losing their Pohl jobs was equally apparent. A lot of truth came out, nonetheless, and that was enough.
Once their testimonies were over, we parted ways, not knowing what the future would bring.
In a few days, one of my former employees called me. “I resigned from Pohl…there’s too much politicking,” she said in distress. How I wished I could hire her back. She had a family to feed. But my bank accounts were in a bond.
Another former employee called. Her work environment became hostile and unbearable, and one day, she collapsed in Pohl’s office. Her benefits were denied, even her much-needed employee medicals. How I wished I could help, but again, my assets were in a bond. Shortly thereafter, she passed away.
I felt horribly guilty. Was fighting for my rights as an American really worth this much? What was the money for? How much was enough? Was that all that was important for some people?
My friends urged me not to give up in my lawsuits. “Those unfortunate events are all coincidences. You did not cause them,” they said.
The day of the hearing finally arrived. Christmas and New Year holidays had just ended. The courtroom was crowded. They were all supporters of Pohl, seated behind their three lawyers—William McCorriston, Kenneth Mansfield, Becky Chestnut. Even Francis O’Brien, the main attorney who sued me, was in their group.
None of my friends attended. They were discreet and had their livelihood to protect. They didn’t have the luxury of time like Pohl and their partners, staff members, political friends.
I wondered if the crowd came with card invitations. That would be ridiculous! The room looked like a political convention for one party and I was the only gate crasher.
More people came in, many with coat and tie. I didn’t know if Atty. Robert Marks, the husband of the malpractice judge, was there. I avoided looking behind me to see if Roy Chang and Harvey Demetrakopoulos had been invited.
There was nothing so technical and complicated—the written contract between Pohl and me that we simply called an agreement or joint venture, the impartial testimonies of the employees, the retainers that the clients signed for me and Pohl, the specific listings of our joint clients, and many more evidences that were so literal and clear.
Judge Hifo asked a few questions. That way, everyone in the courtroom knew she was listening to the proceedings in spite of her vision medical handicap.
I was communicating my thoughts to her. “Judge, you heard my arguments, straightforward and strong. You’ll not be pressured by the number of Pohl’s attorneys and their confusing gigantic chart. That’s only to justify their fees from the insurance company.”
The arguments were over. Everyone was calmly seated as they waited for the judge to say something. Perhaps, she would take the matter under advisement and release her orders later. That was normal procedure.
Finally, Judge Hifo quickly turned her head to the audience then to McCorriston. “Please prepare the Order, Mr. McCorriston. This case is dismissed!”
McCorriston was elated and expressed his full gratitude. “Thank you, Your Honor.”
“My God, my God! The judge just dismissed my case against Pohl! What happened to her assurances and affection to me in her chambers? Was she just playing with my emotions? Did she just trash all my evidence?”
I shook my head in disbelief. I felt so betrayed by everyone and the trap tightened around me.
Judge Hifo glanced at Warren Price and Sharon Himeno, smiled, closed the session, and immediately stood up to leave the courtroom for her chambers. Then she turned around quickly, as if she forgot something, and addressed McCorriston. “By the way, put in my Order that Ms. Dominguez did not abuse judicial process.”
What a remark that was! A small piece of candy for someone who was just beaten to a pulp!
Then I thought, that large audience during the hearing—did someone know what truly happened to the half a million federal default judgment I was accused of failing to collect—was it already collected at my back? By whom? Were they present to assure themselves that some things would remain unknown?
The truth may never surface. Just like ugly deeds that remain covered forever. Hifo just dismissed my lawsuit. My right to a jury trial was killed, as simple as that.
My friends were supportive. “Erlinda, don’t give up. There’s nothing much more for you to lose at this time.”
“Pursue your appeals,” they said. “Not all authorities are the same. Let’s hope that the system would finally work for you.”
Again, I had to quickly prepare for an appeal. In the middle of the day, I was driving in heavy traffic. Judge Hifo’s clerk called. “Ms. Dominguez, you have to proceed to your office at this time for a phone conference with the attorneys of Price Okamoto Himeno & Lum,” he said.
I was alarmed. “What’s the subject?” I asked, wondering what more that law firm called Pohl for short could do to me through Judge Hifo.
“To schedule the jury trial for the damages sustained by Price Okamoto Himeno & Lum.”
“What damages? What jury trial? The judge just dismissed my Pohl case and cancelled the future jury trial,” I said, as my worry showed in my voice.
“I don’t know, Ms. Dominguez. Sorry.”
“Can we schedule the conference later, please?” I asked.
“The judge is waiting in her chambers,” he said politely.
“Okay, please give me a few minutes.”
I turned around and drove back to my office. The phonewas ringing. It was Judge Hifo at the other end.
“I wish to schedule the jury trial for the damages of defendant Price Okamoto Himeno & Lum to begin this coming Monday,” she said. There was no longer that gentleness and warmth I felt in her chambers.
“The damages that I caused? Like what, Judge?” I asked in disbelief.
“Their fees, costs, expenses for defending themselves against your lawsuit—all their damages,” she said.
Her voice was formal and cold. So different from when she was gently fixing the collar of my suit. So different from when she was assuring me that she knew the law, my case was meritorious, and she would do anything to help.
I groped for words to say. My fate was in the grip of the woman at the end of the phone line who suddenly sounded like we never met and that she held the total power to rule my life as an enemy.
“But Judge, you had just dismissed my case,” I said. “I immediately filed Motions for Reconsideration, and perhaps, you haven’t read them yet…I wish to be heard.”
“I could rule on motions summarily. They don’t have to be heard. We have to proceed on Monday,” was her quick response.
She had no intention to allow me a hearing. And just like the malpractice judge, she was legislating her own procedures. She could even order a trial on that Sunday if the courts were open.
I felt like a ton of bricks was upon me. My opponents were taking advantage of judicial power that was so arbitrary. An unscheduled jury trial in four business days was unheard of, obviously abusive, and appeared so tyrannical. Volumes of documents had to be prepared for that trial—exhibits, jury instructions, verdict forms, subpoenas, trial briefs, and so on.
I no longer had associates. I depended on available independent contractors for almost everything. Pohl took over my huge law firm after our business liaison ended. That included our claims and cases, computers, hard drives, files, employees. Even tables, desks, office supplies. Pohl had all the help with dozens of lawyers and administrative staff. I had none.
Judge Hifo knew my handicap. I was alone. And she was ordering a jury trial immediately past the coming weekend, on early Monday morning!
It was hopeless. I had no rights. A nobody in the eyes of the law. The U.S. Constitution for due process and fair trial was for some, at least, for the chosen few.
“Pohl can proceed without me, Judge,” I said meekly, almost without strength in my voice. “I’ll just note my objection on the record.”
There was quick silence. As if Judge Hifo didn’t expect that I would still travel to the courthouse to officially record my objection.
Finally, Judge Hifo suggested that a jury trial could be avoided. Only if Pohl agreed. “I’ll let you two discuss then keep me informed right away,” she said, then her line was disconnected.
“I never heard of a jury deciding attorney fees and costs,” I told Mansfield. “This would be the first.”
“Pohl could make it easier for you, Ms. Dominguez,” he said. “We can agree to a motion instead of a jury trial.”
Again, I heard laughter at his end. They knew they had everything, and I had nothing. Mansfield noticed my silence. “Ms. Dominguez, as I said, we’ll agree to a motion to be heard by Judge Hifo.We might even waive a hearing for your convenience. That would be much simpler. What do you say? Are you still there?”
They were toying with me and my legal rights. “What I say doesn’t mean a thing,” I responded softly.
Pohl filed a motion for their expenses in defending against my lawsuit. They told Judge Hifo that I should also pay for the hours spent by their lawyers talking to Roy Chang and Harvey Demetrakopoulos, my previous attorneys. They had become their witnesses against me.
Ridiculous! Insane! Pay for my previous lawyers’ talking to my opponents? This does not happen, especially not in this country!
I filed my opposition. I had a client’s privileges that the law protected. American justice is not a joke. And certainly, not oppression and tyranny as was practiced by my legal enemies.
Pohl’s lawyers claimed that I had no right to know specifics. Not even what they discussed with Roy and Harvey, my previous attorneys. To them, justice for me was being told how much to pay.
I thought, “My God! That’s how judges protect human rights? That’s how some favored people earn their wealth? Are the rumors I heard true? Impossible!”
“It’s almost criminal!” my friends exclaimed in total disbelief. “If such injustice happened to you, it could happen to us.”
A tiny portion of the hearing transcript shows verbatim the following, word for word:
“(MS. DOMINGUEZ) How am I to know? I mean, I have the right to know, especially if they’re claiming over 100,000, and the Court’s attitude seemed to me to be times two, and ongoing, could you believe that, and ongoing.
So if I speak, as I discuss, as I argue before you now, Your Honor, the clock is ticking. If you’re going to award their fees, I’m supposed to pay for the fee of Mr. McCorriston sitting there listening to what I’m saying, and for the fee of Mr. Mansfield listening to what I’m saying.
Your Honor, is that really fair? Is that really just?”
Judge Hifo was just staring at me as I asked for some justice. I no longer felt the warm affection she had shown in her chambers.
What a fool I was! How naïve, gullible and trusting I really was! What was so wrong with me to be too simplistically misled with assuring and affectionate conduct of an authority inside a judge’s chambers?
But again, I should not fault myself for my wrong choices.
I filed my appeal from Hifo’s judgment dismissing my lawsuit against Pohl. My researchers and document preparers hesitated to be paid for their services. They knew that my assets were in a bond. And they could not swallow the extreme injustices that were happening. Nobody should!
One day, I joined my old and new friends in a social gathering. “We saved these news clippings for you,” they said. “Wish we saw them earlier.”
I began to read the first article which was short. It was about issues of serious anomalous handling of the estate of the late Hawaii Princess Pauahi. The news said:
“The $10 billion charitable trust—the state’s largest private landowner—employs an army of well-connected attorneys that includes a former governor, two former attorneys general…The estate’s legal team also lists…Bill McCorriston, former assistant U.S. attorney…” “Former Attorney General Warren Price and his successor, Robert Marks, through their firm…have conducted legal work for the estate…To be sure, the legal work for the estate can be lucrative.”
The other news article applauded a documentary book titled Broken Trust.
Among the brave readers of the documentary book, one commented:
“The authors (of Broken Trust) even point out how we, as Hawaii citizens have been beaten down by the corrupt system for so long that we simply accept it as a fact of life…”
“Now, Broken Trust , Greed, Mismanagement & Political Manipulation gathers never-before public information concerning the entire sordid matter, especially highlighting how corruption flourished in the legislature, courts, and legal profession…”
As I read the news, I thought—I was truly a nobody in Pohl’s legal practice of power for quick millions. They could have helped me in my defense of that bogus malpractice case. But instead, they kicked me into the depths of hell in the court of their partner’s wife.
What was it that they wanted covered forever? Or, were they imparting a fearful message to Hawaii—the State of Aloha—that their powerful political dynasty should never be questioned?
I looked at my friends and exclaimed, “I feel somewhat vindicated by these news articles. I don’t believe one bit that I’m crazy as Warren Price described me. And I don’t believe that I am expletive, uncivil and invective as the Supreme Court justices labeled me.”
The news described the close friendship of the State Attorney General Warren Price and his wife, Sharon Himeno, with Governor John Waihee. It explained how the couple led and directed the governor’s campaign. And how the governor appointed justices to the Supreme Court by suggestion of the judicial commission.
The news further said:
“With people like Warren Price…on the commission, it was easy to get one particular name on the list. The thing, though, is that it already had been determined who was going to get appointed.”
“It bothered some people that Himeno was Attorney General Warren Price’s wife and she was not considered an exceptional lawyer. But the bigger concern for many was an allegation of a serious ethical lapse in connection with a family corporation’s apparent $3 million profit on a back-to-back purchase/sale of a mainland golf course involving Himeno’s client, the state Employees Retirement System.”
Then I remembered—Pohl did things discreetly at my back during our past business liaison. I didn’t really know them except that we were members of the Bar and had our respective law firms. They were, of course, generally known for their political power and extreme wealth. But I never involved myself in gossip.
Pohl was aware that I was Filipino and didn’t go to American schools. They would later tell me—they heard of my multitude of cases servicing all races, and with very clean history. That’s why we partnered.
I recalled what my employees said when the Dominguez-Pohl business liaison was formed—“What have you done to your office, Erlinda? What have you done to us? They only brought misery in our lives. We could have hurdled all the problems that came our way as we always did. We never needed Pohl, their power and their money!”
Their fears came to fruition. Not all the lawyers assigned by Pohl could handle injury cases, clients’ files began to disappear into their law firm, the lease of our office space was no longer paid as Pohl promised, many of my most competent employees were terminated, clients were traumatized, and our contract ended without warning.
Pohl even travelled to my native country, the Philippines, to recruit airline crash victims, using my name. Then, they wouldn’t return the clients’ calls and expected me to do the job.
“They just used you, your name, your success,” commented my friends and acquaintances.”
In the end, I lost my employees, my clients, my huge office, and now, I was losing everything…everything. I thought, “I should have known, and now, it’s much too late…it’s much too late…”
I took back the clipping from my friend’s hand. I read aloud slowly and clearly what was relevant to my immoral and tragic experiences in Hawaii:
“Hawaii has a tradition of tolerance and quiet acceptance of others. In the island way, it often is considered disruptive—even rude—to speak out. So silence is understandable.”
“See that? See that?” my friends exclaimed.
“It’s uncanny. The warnings I often heard are so true, after all,” I said—“Be careful…they’re human…can be offended… have friends…tentacles…”
“Erlinda, don’t feel any guilt for not knowing what was to come. It’s not wrong to be unpolitical. Your biggest mistake was hiring those two lawyers. What are the names of your previous lawyers again?”
“Roy Chang and Harvey Demetrakopoulos.”