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Smearing Public Figures By Reporting the Behavior of Family Members

(c) Copyright November 15, 2004 by Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

The following essay was published in Hawaii Reporter on-line newspaper on November 17, 2004 at:

'Smearing' Public Figures By Reporting the Behavior of Family Members

By Kenneth R. Conklin, 11/17/2004

Is it right for the press to "drag family members" into political campaigns? Is it right to "smear" a political candidate or public figure by pointing out the bad behavior of family members or close associates? Is it right to focus the media spotlight on "innocent" people who just happen to be family members or friends of a controversial public figure? Was it a smear of mayoral candidate Duke Bainum when Malia Zimmerman published unsavory facts and court documents pertaining to Bainum's wife Jennifer?

I, Ken Conklin, know what it is like to be smeared, so I am sympathetic to complaints of it. Hawaiian sovereignty activists like to call me names and spread lies about me because I oppose their evil political agenda. They try to discredit me personally rather than to debate the facts and logic in the essays I write. None other than University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle publicly smeared me by by repeating in the mass media a lie circulated by professors at the Center for Hawaiian Studies that I do not have a Ph.D., even though Dobelle himself had access to my college transcripts on file at his own university. Fortunately reporter Bob Rees investigated, verified my credentials, and publicly corrected Dobelle's smear. See Rees' article from the Honolulu Weekly, with my own commentary, at Anyway, I consider smear tactics to be unethical and unscholarly. But was it a smear to publish facts and court documents disparaging the wife of mayoral candidate Bainum, at a time when Bainum was seeking election?

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin has an interesting self-contradiction in its own editorial practices regarding smears.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin on Tuesday Nov. 16, printed a lengthy story about a no-contest plea entered by a 25-year-old criminal with a long rapsheet; see: That story probably would not be newsworthy (there are so many like him) except for the fact that the criminal is the son of ex-judge Sandra Simms, whose de-frocking was a high profile news story half a year before. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin also published an article in March reporting the indictment of the judge's son and reminding readers that he is the judge's son, at the same time when the Judicial Selection Commission was considering whether Judge Simms should be retained in office. For the March article, see Was that a smear? I believe the March news article was not a smear because it was relevant to judging the judge at a time when her character and performance were legitimately under scrutiny (I'll explain that relevance below). But the November article borders on being a smear because mother Simms is no longer a candidate for office and her son's criminal activities are not particularly noteworthy by contrast to the activities of other criminals whose crimes are more serious and more numerous. The November article is merely rubbing salt in the wounds of a dysfunctional family for the purpose of stimulating the morbid curiosity of the public to take pleasure in someone's pain.

The editor of that same Honolulu Star-Bulletin just nine days previously, on Nov. 7, criticized an alleged smear of Honolulu mayoral candidate Duke Bainum, and defended its editorial decision not to publish information about the story before the election: see

The alleged smear occurred when Malia Zimmerman, investigative reporter and editor of Hawaii Reporter online newspaper, had published a series of articles including court documents and details related to claims of immoral and possibly illegal activities a few years ago by Bainum's new wife. The following two articles constitute Malia Zimmerman's reporting, which the Honolulu Star-Bulletin considers a smear:

"Controversy Surrounds Final Years of Life of Masumi Murasaki and His Caregiver, Jennifer Alonso-Toma, Now Wife of Mayoral Candidate Duke Bainum" Hawaii Reporter, October 18, 2004

"Public Record Documents in the Case of Jennifer Bainum vs. Masumi Murasaki" Hawaii Reporter, October 25, 2004

Malia Zimmerman wrote a brief defense of her work as not being a smear, and pointing out that calling it a smear is itself a smear against her and '''Hawaii Reporter''':

"Anatomy of a 'Smear'" Hawaii Reporter, Nov. 12, 2004

The story about Bainum's new wife's activities circulated widely over the Internet, but the Honolulu Star-Bulletin regarded it as a smear and made an editorial decision not to publish either the story itself, or the story about the impact the story was having on the election. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin editor said "Further, the issue had nothing to do with the mayoral race." Yet the story about Bainum's wife is just as relevant to judging Bainum's ability to judge people and exercise leadership as the story about Richard Simms is relevant to judging his mother's competence to be a judge (be patient; I'll explain that relevance soon).

The crimes and court appearances of Richard Simms are much less serious and less numerous than the crimes and court appearances of other criminals whose stories are never told in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin's singling out of Richard Simms and his mother, ex-judge Sandra Simms, could easily be regarded as a "smear." It's unclear which one -- the mother or the son -- is being smeared by association with the other, since each of them has a bad reputation that could rub off on the other. Linking mother and son in a negative newspaper article in November may no longer be appropriate, since mother is no longer a public figure under consideration for a decade-long judicial appointment.

However, it was entirely appropriate to publish articles about the criminal charges filed against Richard Simms, and his criminal history, at the time his mother Sandra Simms was under consideration for reappointment to the bench. That's because the tendency of a judge to give severe vs. lenient sentences is a permanent part of her character, obviously related to the tendency of a mother to be strict vs. excessively coddling in the way she raises her child. Mother Simms probably let her boy "get away with murder" and only gave him warnings which she seldom enforced by punishment, just as Judge Simms gave sentences of probation to perpetrators of serious crimes and sometimes failed to give them jail sentences even after they violated probation or committed additional crimes. Fairly or unfairly, society judges parents' values and parenting skills by the way their children behave. If a child turns into a criminal, it seems appropriate to doubt whether the mother has a good value system and/or whether the mother has the ability to exercise authority in a way that will shape the child in accord with that value system. Either way, a person's values and ability to manage her own children are clearly relevant to the public's assessment of her suitability to be a judge, where she will be expected to uphold society's values and manage the criminals through the sentences she gives them.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin's handling of news about Judge Simms and her son sets an example that contradicts that newspaper's claim that Malia Zimmerman smeared Duke Bainum by publishing articles about his wife. If it was proper for Honolulu Star-Bulletin to publish the article about Richard Simms' indictment (remember, not yet proved guilty) in March, when Judge Simms was being considered for a 10-year extension of her judgeship, then is was clearly proper for Hawaii Reporter to publish the articles reporting accusations filed in court documents about candidate Bainum's wife at a time he was being considered for a four-year term as mayor. A mayor must be a good judge of character and choose subordinates whose ethics are beyond reproach; thus, if a candidate recently married someone whose character is reprehensible, it would be a factor the public should know when deciding whether to vote for him. Also, a mayor whose wife will be subjected to ongoing disparagement and scandal would be crippled in his ability to give full attention to his job, much like a judge whose son is constantly in trouble or a candidate for high office whose poor health saps his energy and concentration.

The Judicial Selection Commission had published in January its usual request for public comment regarding whether a judge should be retained in office for another term of 10 years. The JSC advertisement appeared in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin along with other newspapers. Judge Simms had attracted notoriety and public outrage because for many years she had repeatedly given extremely lenient sentences to criminals convicted of serious crimes, both non-violent and violent. Her sentencing grievously undermined the credibility of law enforcement -- potential criminals were not deterred by any expectation of severe sentences, police and prosecutors felt loss of morale because all their hard work was wasted, and the public felt betrayed. Judge Simms was clearly treating criminals in her court the same way she had treated her son in her own home -- with excessive leniency leading to no fear of consequences. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin had published numerous articles for several years describing Judge Simms' excessive leniency in sentencing. For details about the denial of retention in office for Judge Simms, and her history of excessive leniency in sentencing, see:

In March, during the period when the Judicial Selection Commission was considering whether to retain Judge Simms in office, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin published an article about the indictment of her son Richard on several criminal charges. The newspaper article repeatedly noted that Richard is the judge's son. The March 18, 2004, article has the title "Judge’s son accused in beating" and can be seen in its entirety at Here are excerpts illustrating the Star-Bulletin "smear" of Judge Simms by associating her with her son's then-only-alleged criminal activities. These excerpts show that the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's editors do not consider it a "smear" to link the judge to her son's criminal behavior (and I agree this is not a smear).

"The son of a circuit judge has been indicted on charges of assault and car theft stemming from a confrontation last month in Mililani. Richard Simms, 25, son of Judge Sandra Simms, was charged yesterday by an Oahu grand jury with second-degree terroristic threatening, third-degree assault, car theft, driving without a license, driving while intoxicated and fleeing the scene of an accident. He faces a maximum five years in prison for each of the most serious offenses: fleeing the scene and car theft. ... Judge Simms, whose 10-year term expires in May and who has asked to be retained, declined comment, according to a Judiciary spokeswoman. Richard Simms could not be reached for comment."

In May the JSC made public its decision that Judge Simms should not be retained. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that story on May 11 at and included the comment that "Simms has managed to avoid the spotlight in recent years but resurfaced recently when son Richard Simms, 25, was indicted in March for allegedly beating a man and later stealing the car of another man while under the influence of alcohol. Prosecutors said at the time that their prosecution of the case had nothing to do with the fact that his mother was a judge." Once again, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin is reporting the son's behavior because it is a reflection on his mother, at least in the eyes of the public. Either that newspaper reports that fact at that time because it considers the fact relevant, or else the neswspaper is committing a smear by reporting a fact it considers irrelevant but knows will cause the public to disrespect the ex-judge.

Finally, on Nov. 16, 2004 the Star-Bulletin reports that Richard Simms has pleaded no-contest to most of the charges against him. And the newspaper article prominently mentions the now-irrelevant fact that he is the son of ex-judge Sandra Simms, thereby "smearing" her by association with him at a time six months after she was no longer under consideration for public office, and also smearing Richard by association with his mother who was defrocked because of her poor judgment. Here are excerpts focusing on the smear, taken from the full article at whose title is a smear all by itself: "Former judge’s son pleads no contest to assault"

"The son of a former Circuit Court judge has pleaded no contest to assaulting a passer-by and stealing the car of another man after leaving a Mililani restaurant/bar while intoxicated earlier this year. Richard Henry Simms, 25, admitted yesterday that there was sufficient evidence to charge him with second-degree terroristic threatening, third-degree assault, driving without a license, fleeing after striking an unattended car and car theft in a series of incidents on Feb. 2 and 3. ... Simms is the son of former Circuit Judge Sandra Simms, who was denied a second 10-year term earlier this year."

Incidentally, it should not escape notice that the prosecutor is himself guilty of the same sort of excessive leniency as Judge Simms was both in sentencing criminals and in raising her son. Amazingly, the prosecutor, who has a duty to protect the public and seek a sentence commensurate with the crime, is requesting only probation and no jail time for this repeat multiple offender guilty of violent crime. Is the prosecutor's inappropriate leniency due to some vestige of respect for the ex-judge, which would be irrelevant to this case? Or is it due to the typical leniency of our courts which the public finds so disgusting? These excerpts from tell the tale:

"Defense attorney Rustam Barbee said Simms will ask for a deferral of his no-contest plea. If the request is granted and he stays out of trouble for a specified period, Simms will have an opportunity to erase the charges from his record. Deputy Prosecutor Randal Lee said he will oppose Simms' request and will ask instead that he be sentenced to probation with no jail time. ... Simms has 15 prior arrests including theft, driving while intoxicated and liquor violations. He was previously granted a deferral of his plea to fourth-degree theft -- a case that was dismissed in July 2000 after he complied with court-imposed conditions."