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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Toshimi Sodetani was 'epitome of judges'

BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Toshimi Sodetani

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When he retired as a state judge in 1984, Toshimi Sodetani said he always felt uneasy after he ruled against someone.

But during his decade on the bench, the soft-spoken Maui native never shied away from making tough calls.

Sodetani died on Dec. 31. He was 89.

"To me, he was the epitome of judges," said Darwin Ching, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, who served as a law clerk to Sodetani.

"He bent over backwards to be fair to everybody. He respected the rights of individual defendants, but he made sure that justice was done," Ching said.

In the late 1970s, Sodetani was assigned to the sensational Kukui Plaza bribery case against Mayor Frank Fasi and fundraiser Harry C.C. Chung.

Local developer Hal Hansen had accused Fasi of accepting $500,000 in campaign contributions in exchange for the contract to build Kukui Plaza apartment complex downtown.

The trial ended in dismissal of criminal charges after Hansen said his testimony was coerced and refused to take the stand.

In 1985, Sodetani removed Tom "Fat Boy" Okuda as administrative director of the state Judiciary. Okuda was later convicted of fixing traffic tickets for family members and friends.

Born in Pu'unēnē, Maui, Sodetani was the son of Japanese immigrants who moved to Maui to work for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.

He attended the University of Hawai'i just before World War II, and after the war broke out, he enlisted and was a member of the famed 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.

After UH, Sodetani attended Cincinnati College of Law and later went into private practice, first in Honolulu and then in Maui with Cable Wirtz, who later became a justice of the Hawai'i Supreme Court.

Sodetani also worked for the state as a deputy attorney general and was chairman of the Labor and Industrial Relations Appeal Board.

In 1974, Gov. John Burns appointed him to the Circuit Court.

Sodetani is survived by his wife Lillian, daughter Pam Crane and sisters Yurie Kim and Edith Sakai. He also is survived by grandchildren Justin Ossola, Gabe Crane and David Crane.