Shigeru "George" Fukuoka, a former county supervisor, state and territorial senator and Circuit Court judge, died earlier this year. He was 90.
Friends and members of Maui's legal community remembered Fukuoka this week as a mentor to many young lawyers and as a fair-minded and intelligent judge, who helped guide the community's system of law and justice in the early years after statehood. Private services were held.
"He presided over the transition from the plantation oligarchy to the rule of law, the constitutional democracy that we have," said longtime Wailuku attorney Phillip Lowenthal, calling Fukuoka a "great judge . . . a very important judge."
Shigeru “George” Fukuoka
Fukuoka family photo
As the island's only public defender in the 1970s, Lowenthal recalled being intimidated by the judge with white hair and wire-rimmed glasses.
"He was stern, very scary," Lowenthal said, adding that he had an "arms-length but very loving relationship" with Fukuoka, who also taught the young lawyer how to "behave."
Fukuoka was a state Circuit Court judge from 1967 to 1982.
He previously served on the county Board of Supervisors in 1954-55 and 1965-66, and in the territorial Senate and state Senate in 1956-64 and again in 1967.
Former Maui Mayor Elmer Cravalho, who served alongside Fukuoka in the Legislature, recalled his former colleague as "intelligent" and "very effective."
"He was very able, no question about it," Cravalho said.
Fukuoka was born April 2, 1920, in Paia. As the first child of immigrant workers, he went to elementary school unable to speak English. But he succeeded, eventually graduating from Maui High School in Hamakuapoko in 1938.
After graduating from the University of Hawaii teachers college on Oahu in 1942, he taught at Lahainaluna and Hilo high schools and eventually saved enough money for law school.
He earned a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1951. He met his wife, the late Jane Kawasaki, during a winter break from school.
When Fukuoka was appointed Maui's only Circuit Court judge in 1967, cases still were being heard in the old High Street courthouse building, where county prosecutors now have their offices.
Many of the attorneys he mentored went on to become judges or prominent members of Maui's law community.
Wailuku attorney and former county Corporation Counsel Glenn Kosaka said he was in "awe" of Fukuoka, for whom he clerked from 1974 to 1976.
"He was fair, he was very calm. I never heard him raise his voice one time," Kosaka recalled.
He remembered that Fukuoka made a point of reading a defendant's charges to the jury in a "level tone" because he didn't want to emphasize anything or bias jurors.
On one occasion, Fukuoka took an interest in Kosaka's opinion on a motion in a case he was considering, and asked him to write a short memorandum to explain his position. He read the memo thoughtfully; then ruled against the opinion, Kosaka recalled with a laugh.
One of Fukuoka's sons, Dave, recalled some of the life lessons impressed on him by his father.
He clearly remembered his father's reaction when he admired a fancy sports car parked in a neighboring home's garage. The elder Fukuoka pointed out that the car might be "all the person has," and that there were more important things in life than flashy, material possessions.
"Every now and then I reflect on that. It taught us something," said Dave Fukuoka, who became an attorney.
George Fukuoka also is survived by Dave's wife, Paula; another son, Ken (Carrie) Fukuoka, who serves as director of the county Office of Council Services; a brother, Masami (June) Fukuoka; and grandchildren Claire Fukuoka and Scott Fukuoka.
The family requests no monetary or floral offerings.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews. com.