"Supporting the Law Enforcement Agencies of our State, and helping to educate and empower the public for a safer community."

    Prominent Honolulu defense attorney Michael Jay Green is the first to admit his occupation isn’t the most respected in the public’s eye. He understands that many people perceive defense lawyers as, “On the side of the devil.” Never mind that as you enter his

Defense Attorney Michael Green is not only one of Hawaii's most noted lawyers, but also somewhat of a fashion trend-setter for courtroom attire. One has to admit that a leopard print silk shirt provides contrast to the monotonous black robe worn by the presiding judge.
Queen Street office, you pass the doorway and immediately see an inspirational portrait of Jesus Christ washing the feet of a harried attorney, a comforting Bible verse beneath.

    Green shrugs off the negative stereotypes, the lawyer jokes. “Everybody hates lawyers,” he says. That is until you need one. Still, his slightly amused demeanor belies a sense of something inside. A flesh-and-blood passion that wants to pound a fist into the table and exclaim, “It’s your kid I’m defending.”

    Green is arguably one of the most high-profile attorney’s in Hawaii, and his past clientele is a testament to his notoriety. Green estimates he’s tried 1500 trials in his career, both jury and jury waived. He’s represented people in 20 states, Guam, as well as foreign nationals dealing with U.S. courts. While practicing on the mainland, he served as defense for Latino street gangs, Black Panther members, and accused organized crime figures, not to mention high-profile drug dealers. And in 1989, he also successfully represented the National Basketball Association Cleveland Cavaliers’ number one draft pick, John “Hot Rod” Williams in New Orleans.

    Since relocating from Chicago to Hawaii, he has represented former Bishop Estate trustee Lokelani Lindsey, former state Rep. Nathan Suzuki, and briefly, former Honolulu police Lt. Clyde Arakawa, among other notable cases. He was also counsel to several family members of victims in the Xerox workplace shootings. And as he serves in one high profile case after another, his reputation grows, as does the demand for his services.

    “I’ve had people come into my office and say, “I hear you’re the biggest @#!* in town, a 500-pound-gorilla,” Green joked. “You’re the guy I want.” I guess that can be taken as a compliment.”

    In fact, total strangers use his status to their advantage. The mere mention of his name seems enough to make differing parties reconsider disputes. “I get calls about threatened lawsuits where I have never even met the person I supposedly represent,” Green recalls.

    Green understands the public perception of the defense attorney and says a lot of the negative image is justified. Many lawyers behave in ways that readily reinforce that opinion.

    “Probably about 10 percent of attorneys in America are called “trial lawyers,” said Green “Of that 10 percent, seven should never set foot in a courtroom. It takes a special kind of person to do the job right.”

    Green believes strongly in what he does. As a noted attorney, Green is often asked to speak at seminars and lectures; something he enjoys doing. He was recently one of eight lawyers invited to speak at a conference of Hawaii State Judges. In addition, he has lectured for groups of public defenders, prosecuting attorney’s, as well as civic groups. He speaks passionately about his profession, but he never really set out to become a high-profile defense attorney. That role was thrust upon him, in of all places, divorce court. When he started practicing law in Chicago, Green handled a lot of divorce work. The breakup of a marriage’s can become emotional and often bitter, although they are usually considered civil affairs. The nation’s high divorce rate necessitates work for lawyers on both sides, with many attorneys’ specializing in the field. But two of his last divorce cases would drastically alter the direction of his career.

    “One of my clients had a mental disease and shot her husband five times during breakfast,” Green recalled. “She was diagnosed as schizophrenic and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Green thereafter was able to collect double indemnity on the husband’s life insurance policy. In another case, the prosecution alleged that my client arranged a contract murder against her husband. So, I started in divorce court and wound up doing murder cases.”

    After his initiation into criminal defense, Green went on to hire the 19-year-old leader of Chicago’s “Latin Kings” street gang who had previously been convicted of murder. The hiring came after Green was able to convince the Parole Board to commute his sentence. The former gang leader went on to work as Green’s office manager for 12 years.

    Green defended other gangs like the Latin Counts, the Black Peace Stone Nation, and members of the Black Panthers. In Miami, he represented Columbian and Cuban clients in major drug cases. Back in Chicago, he began defending organized crime figures. His reputation as a tough attorney brought a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers, when their number one draft pick, was accused of point shaving during his collegiate career at Tulane University in the mid 1980’s. The Williams case brought Green into the national spotlight and earned him recognition as a top defense lawyer.

    With success comes a price. Nothing is free. Green doesn’t seem to comprehend the term “down time.” After years of stressful cases on the mainland, Green relocated to Hawaii with plans to settle down. His wife, Estelle grew up in the Islands and Green was admittedly, “burned out.” Green wanted to take it easy, and he did so, for about a year and a half. But Hawaii is much more laid back than Chicago. And the courtroom was an arena that Green began to miss. He resumed practice. In his first major case since his “retirement,” Green successfully defended local attorney Leonard Appell, who had been accused of soliciting the murder of fellow attorney Martin Wolff. The case pitted Green against then Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro. After that, Green got a record verdict in a civil case. The judicial community in Hawai’i got a quick introduction to the lawyer and Green resumed a career.

    15 years later, Green’s practice has grown into a law firm with seven other respected attorneys, including former State Attorney General Earl Anzai and renowned lawyer Myles S. Briener. Green says the firm handles about 20 percent criminal cases and 80 percent civil litigation.

    Green’s success as an attorney has given the ability to stand out in the social register. His birthday parties are attended by scores of local celebrities and appear in the newspaper society columns. He plays an occasional round of golf with former Governor Ben
Michael Green and Jeanie
Green poses with HMW publisher Mary Jean Castillo following his candid interview.
Cayetano, a cousin of his wife, Estelle. And He is a notoriously flamboyant dresser, sporting a vivid leopard skin print silk shirt during his interview. His office is filled with artwork, sculpture, and a vast library of books. He sits behind a massive gold inlaid desk, the defining addition of an eclectic collection of artifacts that combine to fuel the energy and dynamic personality of his downtown Honolulu office with an aura of power.

    Flamboyant as he may seem, Green wasn’t holding the proverbial “silver spoon” anytime in his childhood, nor as he was growing up. He still remembers what it’s like to hustle for a buck. His was the oft told saga of “growing up fast.” Green was on his own and “on the street” at 18 years of age, having no real family to speak of-- his mother having left for the east coast, and his father long gone. Green stayed in Chicago, and did what he could to put food on the table. He worked numerous odd jobs, including time as a shoe salesman, running a hot dog stand as well as tending bar to pay his rent as well as his way through school.

    The successful attorney now seems light years removed from that time, but it always somewhere in his thinking, in the way he sees the world and interacts with those around him. He’s now accustomed to receiving the finest service at a restaurant or lounge. But he remembers being on the opposite side of those accommodations. And if you’re lucky enough to wait on him, chances are it will be worth the effort. He’s just “paying back.”

    “I tend to go a little overboard with waitresses, waiters, bartenders, and doormen,” admits Green. “I remember what it was like. I couldn’t afford my law books if somebody didn’t put two bucks in that tip jar. You always have to remember where you came from.”

    Green remembers sharing a small, dirty apartment with a friend, a friend that he still cherishes and calls every week or so. He thinks back and decides it wasn’t even an apartment, just a room. They used to have arguments over whose turn it was to buy toilet paper. At 15 cents a roll, the disputes must have been intense. Green remembers laying one particular day on a “Murphy bed,” the kind with a handle that folds out from the wall. And he’s trying to rest, but the walls are so thin and the neighbors also have a Murphy bed, and he hears the couple in the adjoining room making passionate love--loud, passionate love. As Green lay awake in bed, looking up at the cracked ceiling, he knew he had to get out. Escaping from poverty became something that carried and drove him through the dirty jobs and longs nights of study.

    Green pauses in the midst of a hectic day and smokes a cigarette with a glass of wine. The respite from his hectic day allows him to lets his guard down for a moment and his tone changes. Green now speaks in a softer tone, his eyes open wide, and he leans slightly forward, as if he is speaking to a close friend. For a moment, he’s not in the courtroom, nor in the lens of a camera. His massive desk appears much larger, and he shrinks to life. One glimpses Green as a man, just like the guy at the corner gas station, albeit with a wardrobe that might cost a few months’ pay.

    The tough shell opens and you immediately see the contrasts. The rich lawyer who remembers the hungry days, working his way to the top. The attorney who “sides with the devil” is a professed Christian. To the world, he’s a flashy, aggressive, dapper socialite and successful defense lawyer. But a measure of humility seems just under the hardened surface. In an instant, you see a very powerful man who is also very much human. The flashy clothes were once a clean shirt and a pair of jeans. Michael Green is fully aware who he is, but he’ll never forget who he was and where he came from.

    “I think it’s important never to think you’re too important,” Green said.

    Green works seven days a week and there is little “down time.” At home, he is usually surrounded by stacks of legal books and briefs. Green often wakes up in the middle of the night to jot down a memo regarding a case. Even with his family, he is often admittedly “somewhere else” and they can tell by his expression. Green credits his wife, Estelle for the support she gives to a man often consumed by his profession. Estelle, the former Ms. Hawaii Philippines has appeared in several films, but her role as wife of one of the most sought after attorney’s in the state is probably more demanding than the rest combined. “Most women would ask for a divorce,” Green admits. “I’m really fortunate to have a fantastic wife.”

    The lifestyle takes it toll. The constant work, the pain--felt from both sides of the aisle. Green sees it happen to his colleagues, and prays it doesn’t happen to him quickly.

    “Trial lawyers don’t normally die of old age,” he says soberly. “They have strokes, heart attacks, or drop dead. They also have a high rate of alcoholism and substance abuse.”

    Green’s caseload and schedule may take up the majority of his time, but every Saturday, he gets a few hours reprieve. He’s up at 5:30 am and off to the greens. His Saturday starts with an early tee time on the golf course, followed by an hour in the sun behind the clubhouse. Drink in hand and no thoughts whatsoever—that’s as close as he gets to “down time.”

    His weekly round of golf means a lot, and not just the escape from the crushing burden of his workload. It’s a chance to just be “one of the guys.” One would likely imagine Green on the golf course with other high profile attorneys, people of influence, and prospective clients. But his partners are more than likely folks like a group of elevator repairmen he regularly tees with. Green describes them as, “normal, hard working guys,” no bull, just “real folks.” Out on the greens, there is no distinction. And the attorney relishes that. In fact, he’s played with the same club for over 20 years.

    “One off the guys said to me, ‘Hey, you’re a rich lawyer, and I don’t know much about the law, but you don’t have an attitude,” Green recalls. “I told him, “You don’t have an attitude either. I know nothing about elevators, but you don’t hold it against me.”

    Green says that state of mind is especially true in Hawaii, where respect for one another and humility are seen as virtue. No big head, eh?

    “I learned that when I played golf with Governor (Ben) Cayetano,” said Green. “People were cutting the greens, mowing the lawn. And they see him and say, “Hey, Ben.” There’s none of that “Governor or Mister” out there on the course.”

    Green says he looks back at his life and has learned to “never take things for granted.” But the days of pinching pennies and arguing over toilet paper are far behind. He has obviously risen to the top of his profession and tries to enjoy the fruits of his labor. He sits in his office sometimes and listens to French music that he doesn’t understand. “It is still very peaceful,” says Green. He looks around at the elegance that surrounds him and pauses. That feeling follows him as he goes home. He sits in his spacious house, with the pool and surrounding trees and the 300-foot driveway that leads to it, and he thinks. “I LIVE here.” And his mind races back to the hotdog stands and the tip jars and he remembers the past and savors the present and he looks out at it all. You sense that although Green will probably want for nothing the rest of his life, he still pinches himself now and then to make sure it’s all true.

    “I feel so fortunate” Green says with a lowered head. “This is what I do, but I understand that I’m very lucky to have gotten here. And I’ll always remember how I got here.”