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Thursday, April 28, 2011
Hawaii Anti-Trust Adventures: Investigating Big Five Control of Matson
By Selected News Articles @ 6:45 AM :: 7915 Views :: Energy, Environment

Humorous Side of the Law: A great interview I conducted ... too bad I wasn’t there

by Carl Steinhouse, Naples (Fla) News

While enforcing the federal antitrust laws in Hawaii, (in the early 1960s) my boss, Ray Carlson, and I investigated the big five companies’ control of the Matson Steamship Company. We had the fervent support of the Hawaii Attorney General. We finished the investigation and filed a case against the Matson and the companies controlling it.

Defendants’ lawyers arranged a meeting with the United States Attorney General to convince him to drop the case. I traveled to Washington to argue against it. The Hawaiian AG, our great supporter, also attended. After the defense counsel made their argument, the U.S. AG turned to the Hawaiian AG and asked his opinion. I sat there smugly.

“It would be better for the state if the case was dropped,” the Hawaiian AG said in a low voice, looking down and away from me.

What did drop was my jaw. Out of the blue, my friend suddenly switched sides. Island politics had gotten to him.

“With all due respect Mr. Attorney General, you are full of baloney (the language admittedly cleaned up for this article). Why just last week...”

“What did you say?” my ultimate boss, the U.S. AG, interrupted.

“Well, sir...”

He did not let me continue. All 6 feet 6 inches rose out of his chair.

“How dare you insult the Attorney General of the sovereign state of Hawaii?” He pointed to the door. “Out,” he shouted, “get out of my office — now!”

Well, that was certainly a clear enough command, not subject to interpretation, so I gathered my papers, and stalked out, but not without glaring at the state AG. He simply shrugged and averted his eyes.

I knew our case, the most important one we’d bring in Hawaii, was in trouble. I called Carlson in Honolulu.

“We have strong support from one of our congressman, you know who,” he said. “Try to get in touch with him right now and have him call our AG.”

On Capitol Hill, the House was in session considering the Civil Rights Act and our congressman was reluctant to leave the chamber. I had the page deliver a message that it was an emergency. He finally came out and I explained the situation to him.

“Get me a phone,” the congressman shouted at the page. He dialed the AG’s number. I could only hear his end of the conversation.

“Mr. Attorney General, I understand that the defendants and the Hawaiian AG are trying to convince you to drop the shipping case.” He paused.

“What do I think of it? I have only one thing to say, and then I have to get back into the chamber to vote on the Civil Rights Act. We have been screwed by those defendants for 100 years now, give us the opportunity to be screwed by someone else for a change. Don’t dismiss the case.”

He hung up the phone and looked at me. “I’m afraid that’s the best I can do right now,” and disappeared back into the House chamber.

The case was not dismissed and ultimately the defendants settled by agreeing to have four of the five companies controlling the shipping line divest their interests. The independence of the shipping line was, for the first time, established.

But let’s back up a few months, for I think you will be interested in what happened at the start of the investigation. We saw that a majority of the stock of virtually the only shipping line carrying freight between Hawaii and the mainland was controlled by the dominant companies in Hawaii in retail, wholesale, drugs and agriculture, and we felt it was an anticompetitive mechanism to keep competition out of the Islands — and it seemed to be successful, keeping out all but one giant retailer, which was big enough to afford its own ocean shipping vessels. We launched an investigation and issued civil subpoenas with the idea of divesting such control of the shipping line.

The Hawaii Attorney General expressed his excitement and support for our investigation, and then invited Ray and me to lunch. A pleasant and tropical setting in the mountains overlooking Honolulu, the Willows was a popular lunch spot for businessmen and tourists, with its ponds filled with large bright orange carp, underneath the thatched roof of a building with no walls.

We had a round of martinis, mine with a marinated onion, no olive. That was my drink of favor then. I would not dare touch one now.

“Bring another round,” the AG ordered without asking us. I ended up drinking three martinis with the attorney general. I think Ray stopped at one and a half martinis.

When we left the restaurant and bid farewell to the AG, we hurried to our appointment with the Army Corps of Engineers down by the docks. I prepared very hard for this important interview, my questions all carefully thought out and put down on paper.

Having introduced ourselves and produced our credentials, I began the interview.

“For the record, would you state your name, rank and position with the Corps of Engineers?”

Ray nudged me. “Let’s go,” he said sharply.

I looked at him quizzically. “But I haven’t even started to…”

“Never mind that, just get up and leave.” Ray was not tall, but he was powerful and determined. He grabbed my arm roughly and would have, I am sure, dragged me out bodily, if I didn’t finally stand up and walk out with him.

“What’s the idea?” I said with much surprise and a great deal of annoyance after we left the meeting. “This is an important interview and...”

“I conducted the interview and obtained all the information we needed.”

I blinked and shook my head. “But I don’t understand?”

“It’s rather simple. You asked the interviewee his name and then fell dead asleep. I did the interview from your notes. He was a little put out by your snooze. ‘Am I that boring?’ he asked. I assured him that was not the case.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “No more martini lunches for me.”

“You’re damn right,” Ray growled.

And we both meant it.

- - -

Carl Steinhouse had been a federal prosecutor for the United States Department of Justice for 15 years after which he went into private practice specializing in class actions, white-collar crime, and civil and criminal defense trials. Prior to his legal studies, he had served as an intelligence analyst in the Army Counterintelligence Corps. Since his retirement, he has authored six books in his Holocaust Heroes series: “Wallenberg is Here!” “Righteous and Courageous,” “Improbable Heroes,” “Barred”, “Wily Fox”, and “We Shall Be Called Israel!”. See for details. He can be reached at



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