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Exclusive Book Preview: Sunny, Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers and Corruption in the Aloha State

Award-winning veteran investigative reporter tells stories of Hawai‘i’s dark past.


(page 3 of 3)

Big changes in Hawai‘i journalism


Don Ho died just two days after the death of former prosecutor Charles Marsland, whose son had been executed gangland-style by at least one of Ho’s hangers-on. Marsland’s death merited a story obituary in the Advertiser, which I helped to write. But the newspaper did not see fit to cover the funeral of Marsland, a man whose fervid pursuit of organized crime in Hawai‘i and perfervid criticisms of judges and law enforcement agencies made tall headlines for decades. 


Those two deaths, and the morning newspaper’s treatment of them, were emblematic of how journalism in Hawai‘i had changed during my three decades as an investigative reporter in the Islands. 


The work was great while it lasted, taking me from the depths of the underworld in Hawai‘i and Japan to top-floor corporate suites and judges’ chambers. Stories I wrote led to prison terms for quite a few men and landed the colorful and combative mayor of Honolulu in court on bribery charges. 


I found secret land partnerships called huis whose investors included politicians, criminals, business leaders and judges. 


I found contracting cronyism at all levels of government and pried open the financial and political secrets of an astounding $6 billion educational charity known as the Bishop Estate. 


I interviewed the craftiest and clumsiest of con men. I found prison guards who changed uniforms on Friday nights and spent their weekends locked behind bars. 


Things changed radically when Gannett Company Inc., the nation’s largest newspaper chain, bought the Advertiser in 1993 from local ownership. 


Outside editors who knew nothing about Hawai‘i, its people and its history were brought from the Mainland to imprint the Gannett version of the news business on the Advertiser


As I was writing stories in 1995 and 1996, detailing financial shenanigans committed by the trustees of the mighty Bishop Estate, I was told to stop writing about the estate. An assistant city editor told me that the publisher didn’t like them. 


Investigative reporting in the 50th state, particularly long-form newspaper projects, was like working in a journalism hothouse, a news laboratory where all the stories seemed to be part of an organic whole. The stories stood on their own, but, like stands of bamboo, there was a dense root system underneath that stretched over time and distance, producing new shoots in surprising places. 


It was a fantastic job. I’m sorry it’s over. 


These excerpts are from Sunny Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers, and Corruption in the Aloha State, by James Dooley, reprinted with permission of the University of Hawai‘i Press, copyright 2015. Just released this month (paperback, 248 pages, $18.99), the book is available from book retailers, or directly from UH Press at uhpress.hawaii.edu, where information about book signings and other special events will be posted. 




Author’s Note

Photo: Odeelo Dayondon 

James Dooley plagued powerful people and aggravated editors throughout a 40-year career in Hawai‘i journalism. Born in Colorado, raised and educated in northern California, he arrived in the Islands in 1973 as a wire-service reporter and joined the staff of The Honolulu Advertiser a year later. He became a fulltime investigative reporter in 1976 after exposing the “pay to play” Kukui Plaza scandal at City Hall. Dooley covered organized crime and public corruption in print at the Advertiser, on the air at KITV News, and online at Hawai‘i Reporter before retiring in 2013. He lives on the Windward Side, plays occasional tennis and cherishes his family. This is his first book.


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