The Real Stories Behind “The Descendants”

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Robert Thomas

BY ROBERT THOMAS – Our old U. Hawaii Wills & Trusts lawprof Randy Roth was the legal advisor to The Descendants, the 2011 George Clooney movie about a Honolulu lawyer (our review here). Professor Roth has published an article about his experience, which also details the legal cases that were the stories-behind-the-story. Here’s the summary:

The Descendants, an award winning film, depicts real controversies involving old Hawaiian Trusts while highlighting the modern debate of whether Hawai‘i is overdeveloped. This Article, using the film as its basis, gives further insight into the real stories echoed in the film in light of the legal issues that influenced the outcome of each story—that is, the Rule Against Perpetuities and a trustee’s duty to the trust and its beneficiaries. This Article artfully places the reader in the center of the disputes, begging the question of whether Hawai‘i should continue “paving paradise.”


The article, “Deconstructing The Descendants: How George Clooney Ennobled Old Hawaiian Trust and Made the Rule Against Perpetuities Sexy,” is available at 48 Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Journal 291 (Winter 2013), or you can get a pdf copy (if you are a member of the ABA’s RPT Section) here.

Its a short, enjoyable read. Besides, how many law review articles contain the words “George Clooney,” “Rule
Against Perpetuities,” and “Sexy” in a single title?

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Robert H. Thomas is one of the preeminent land use lawyers in Hawaii. He specializes in land use issues including regulatory takings, eminent domain, water rights, and voting rights cases. He has tried cases and appeals in Hawaii, California, and the federal courts. Robert received his LLM, with honors, from Columbia Law School where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and his JD from the University of Hawaii School of Law where he served as editor of the Law Review. Robert taught law at the University of Santa Clara School of Law, and was an exam grader and screener for the California Committee of Bar Examiners. He currently serves as the Chair of the Condemnation Law Committee of the American Bar Association’s Section on State & Local Government Law. He is the Hawaii member of Owners’ Counsel of America, a national network of the most experienced eminent domain and property rights lawyers. Membership in OCA is by invitation only, and is limited to a single attorney from each state. Robert is also the Managing Attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation Hawaii Center, a non-profit legal foundation dedicated to protecting property rights and individual liberties. Reach him at He is also a frequent speaker on land use and eminent domain issues in Hawaii and nationwide. For a list of upcoming events and speaking engagements.