Experiences make him good choice, Laureta says

Retired federal and Hawai’i state judge Alfred Laureta traces his humble roots of growing up on a Maui plantation and a lifetime of serving the public as key reasons for wanting to capture one of three vacant seats on the board of the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative.

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of stories on the seven candidates for three seats on the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative board of directors. Members have been mailed ballots, which include a voter guide. Ballots are due to KIUC headquarters in Kukui Grove Village West by 4 p.m. March 18.

Laureta modestly boasts, “I am a local boy” who made it good because of hard work.

Although headed for a teaching career as a young man, he was encouraged by a priest and a federal judge from Hawai’i to go another route, that of making his mark in law.

Laureta served 11 years as a Hawai’i state judge, and 10 years as a federal district judge in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands before retiring in 1988. Laureta was the first American of Filipino ancestry to serve as a federal judge.

With the success he has had in life, Laureta says he wants “to give back to the community” by becoming a KIUC board member.

Laureta said he would bring his experience as a judge, lawyer and member of a slew of Hawai’i boards and commissions, his fact-finding ability, and an open mind, to the board.

“The experiences I have had while working, and the experiences I have had after retiring have given me the experience I need to contribute to the board of directors, namely, becoming an effective cooperative in the generation of electricity and the distribution of electricity,” Laureta said.

Not being on the board, he said he is not privy to information on whether KIUC leaders are operating cost-effectively or smoothly, but he said he is ready to find out.

“Can we do it better so that it will be of benefit, cost wise, to the people who depend on it?” he asked.

For the benefit of the 25,000-plus KIUC members and the efficient operation of the utility, board members need to be team players “who can share ideas,” Laureta said.

The KIUC board members have come under criticism from the public as the result of stories in The Garden Island last year that scrutinized the purchases, travel habits and activities of board members and KIUC managers.

The stories served to breed mistrust between the public and members of the KIUC board, although the board members vowed to be more forthcoming.

Laureta said he researched the controversy and found the justifications given by members of the board to questions raised by some residents to be acceptable.

However, board members must let KIUC members know what they are doing to rebuild trust, he said.

He said he also would rely on experts to provide him with information that he can use in selecting the best technology or technologies that can be used to cut KIUC’s dependence on oil, and to drive down electrical bills.

Laureta grew up in a plantation camp in Ewa, O’ahu, moved to Maui, and graduated from Makawao Elementary School and Lahainaluna Technical High School.

He wanted to become a teacher, didn’t have any money, lived with friends on O’ahu, worked as a payroll timekeeper for Dole Pineapple Cannery, made money, and graduated with a degree in education and speech from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 1947.

Laureta earned a master’s degree in speech from UH-Manoa in 1950. A Filipino priest approached him while he was a graduate assistant at UH, and suggested he try law school.

In the 1940s, there no professional Filipinos, aside from a few teachers.

Laureta re-crafted his ambitions, and the priest spoke with then-federal Judge Frank McLaughlin, a member of a Japanese foundation on O’ahu whose members provided scholarships to Japanese Americans who served with the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, whose members were the most decorated unit for their size in U.S. military history.

The priest arranged for funds to be used by Laureta, who attended and graduated from Fordham University School of Law in 1953.

While in New York, Laureta met Evelyn Reantillo, who was from New York and was attending Columbia Nursing School. She later became his wife.

Her parents offered Laureta a house and car to open a law practice in New York, but he said no, saying he wanted to return home to Hawai’i.

Laureta passed the Hawai’i state bar examination in 1953, and began his practice. For a short time, Laureta’s law-firm partner was former Gov. George Ariyoshi.

Laureta has served as an administrative assistant to U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai’i, served as the director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, began serving as a state circuit judge on O’ahu in 1967, and in 1969, was appointed as a Kaua’i Fifth Circuit Court judge by then-Gov. John Burns.

Laureta lives in Wailua Homesteads with his wife, and has four grown children and 12 grandchildren.

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