Lanric Hyland dies at 79: Ethics advocate pushed for housing rights, government accountability

  • Lanric Hyland smokes medical marijuana in his home at Ainakea Senior Residences in Kapaau. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Lanric Hyland at the San Francisco City Hall anti-police-violence rally, February 1968. Courtesy photo

HILO — He won some, he lost some, but Kapaau resident Lanric Hyland wasn’t one to shy away from what he perceived as inequities or violations of county, state or federal laws.

Hyland, 79, died in his sleep Sept. 6 at his home in Ainakea Senior Residences.

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“His sense of justice was unfailing,” said longtime caregiver Karen Martinez. “Righting wrong was Lanric Hyland’s guiding spotlight. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he surprisingly possessed an inherent belief in the dignity of all of his fellow man. His mission in life was to fight the injustices visited daily on the poor, the elderly and the downtrodden.”

Hyland is probably best known locally for his ethics complaint against former Mayor Billy Kenoi, which ended in a settlement agreement where Kenoi admitted to misusing his county-issued purchasing card. A jury later cleared Kenoi of criminal charges.

But Hyland also litigated against disparate treatment of neighbor island voters, the right to smoke medical marijuana in county housing, the right of low-income tenants to not have to pay market rates for security deposits and other tenant rights under HUD Section 8 housing.

Growing up in California and Hawaii, he was the child of celebrity parents and step-parents that included Olympic gold-medal winner and Los Angeles Times sportswriter Dick Hyland, novelist and screenwriter Adela Nora Rogers St Johns, Louise Mathews Lansburgh, California state Sen. Alvin C. Weingand and actress Ann Staunton.

“He had this fascinating upbringing,” said Carlo Coppo, a Carlsbad, California, attorney who counted Hyland among his closest friends for more than 50 years.

Coppo said he and Hyland exchanged poetry and regularly corresponded after Hyland moved to Hawaii.

“He was just a wonderful friend, a lifelong friend,” Coppo said.

Coppo is working with Ballard Family Mortuary in Kona and expects to schedule a memorial service in late October.

Despite a criminal conviction and prison term early in his life, Hyland was able to turn himself around and went on to earn several advanced degrees.

He was active in the Black Panthers and colleagues with members Eldridge Cleaver and Angela Davis, Coppo said. Martinez said Hyland was the only white member during those turbulent times.

“He was always at the periphery of, and sometimes at the core of, these — what I call — winged movements,” Coppo said.

Hyland was involved in politics early on, serving as campaign manager for Peace and Freedom Party candidate Ricardo Romo’s unsuccessful California gubernatorial campaign in 1970. Hyland ran unsuccessfully himself as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate for California Senate in 2010.

Hyland moved to West Hawaii soon after that election.

A complaint he filed in 2014 against the county Board of Registration went to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor, saying neighbor island residents should have the same 10 days to object to an election as enjoyed by those on Oahu, despite mail schedules and postal holidays.

A federal judge indicated from the bench she’ll rule in Hyland’s favor on at least one of the housing complaints, although the written order has not yet come out, his attorney Margaret Wille said Thursday.

“He really was a brilliant man,” Wille said. “He was willing to put himself at risk for all these others he saw being mistreated around him.”

But Hyland lost other complaints to the county Ethics Board and in state court as well.

In 2016, the Ethics Board unanimously agreed that county officers and employees are allowed to use the frequent flier miles for their own personal use they accrue on their pCards during government-paid travel. The board in 2015 found no wrongdoing when Kenoi hired his former campaign manager to head a county agency, despite his apparent lack of the required two years supervisory experience.

Last year, a circuit court judge dismissed Hyland’s complaint that he was barred by management from smoking his medical marijuana in his Section 8 apartment, even though he had a medical marijuana card. Hyland vowed at the time to appeal that ruling.

Hyland was a prolific writer of letters to the editor. His final one, published Aug. 24, just two weeks before he died, lamented the lack of coordination between various levels of government to get emergency relief for the county’s budget woes stemming from the lava eruption.

“Since even before the primary, I have been puzzled and waiting. I am now beyond puzzled and done waiting. Why our state legislators and CDP representatives are not part of an islandwide task force to put the county’s legislative aid package together is simply beyond me. In November I intend to vote against all incumbents unless I learn that someone acted differently,” his letter read.

Hyland attended Iolani High School in Honolulu, transferring to Sir Francis Drake High in San Anselmo, California, in 1955.

He served almost three years in prison for armed robbery after pulling a gun on his father in 1964 and then went on to get his GED, before continuing his schooling to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice from the State University of New York and a master’s in human services administration from Antioch University.

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In 1999, Hyland won a $375,000 settlement in a whistle-blower lawsuit after he was terminated from his volunteer work at San Francisco Juvenile Court a decade earlier for calling attention to problems at juvenile hall.

“Time after time, in case after case he always confirmed that greed, originating from abundance of power and wealth, inevitably visited trauma and injustice on the poor and the powerless,” Martinez said. “As an idealist, he saw everything good about making the law work for the little guy. His life was a focus on changing the justice system. He came by this information honestly. He went to prison.”