Laguna Beach attorney returns from diplomatic mission in Western Pacific

Howard Hills disembarks a U.S. Marine Corps passenger jet during a stop in Honolulu. Photo courtesy of Howard Hills

By Craig Lockwood, Special to the Independent

Touching down in Honolulu the Gulfstream jet could have been just another executive aircraft landing in Hawaii from somewhere in the vast Pacific.

Emblazoned with the Globe and Anchor of the United States Marine Corps—this Pentagon aircraft wasn’t arriving from Japan or South Korea, but Micronesia. On board was a third-generation Laguna Beach native and former Laguna Beach High School Class of 1970 Student Body President, Howard Hills.

During the last two years, Hills served as a Senior Advisor to a U.S. State Department-led treaty negotiation team now headed by a Special Presidential Envoy. Hills’ mission has been to support renewal of vital U.S. national security agreements with the strategically located nations of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands under treaties he helped negotiate decades ago.

“Micronesia’s islands were brutally contested during World War II,” Hills said. “Liberating them from imperial Japan cost 100,000 American lives. Today China’s apparently following Japan’s pre-WWII regional conquest playbook.”

Nationally recognized as a constitutional scholar specializing in democratizing America’s remaining island territories, Hills 2016 book, “Citizens Without A State” details Puerto Rico’s struggle for full self-government. His international law publications on relations with U.S.-affiliated nations of the Pacific are cited in Congressional reports and U.S. federal court rulings.

Commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy JAG, in 1981, Hills career was fast-tracked when the Pentagon realized the Navy had a JAG lawyer who’d previously served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the very islands where new U.S. strategic agreements were needed.

Having drafted constitutions and legal codes Hills was ideally cast for assignment as counsel for Micronesian treaty negotiations in the Executive Office of the President and National Security Council (NSC).

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral William Crowe, who’d served earlier on the Micronesia negotiating team and retained a keen interest in the treaties, mentored Hills.

“Crowe taught me our mission was maintain a defense presence structured to keep these islands out of the path of war,” Hills recalls.

With Admiral Crowe passed into history, a 2023 expiration of lynchpin provisions of the treaties approaching, and Chinese Communist Party agents reported as “active” in the islands, bipartisan White House and joint Congressional support emerged——making renewal of the alliances Hills helped shape, a foreign relations priority.

Hills, now as senior adviser for these crucial negotiations, continues offering the original legal thinking he displayed four decades ago, as confirmed by his receipt of the Defense Superior Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, and Joint Chiefs Commendation Medal for his contributions as Lead U.S. Counsel during negotiation, ratification, federal court tests, and U.N. Security Council proceedings sustaining these treaties.

In 2020, Hills made an unsuccessful bid for school board. He remains active in civic affairs.

Not too bad for a surfer kid from Laguna Beach.

Craig is a lifetime member of the United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the Orange County Press Club.

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  1. Howard Hills was cleared of all charges. Why are you bringing up something from 2006 from which he was exonerated? Why are you besmirching his name and accomplishments? And what does this have to do with his good work for the State Department who obviously think he is fit to lead this mission?

  2. HH claims expertise, to be extremely astute and of a flawless character: Providing a highly favorable, revisionist history doesn’t address several things.
    (1) He claims that he only “introduced” infamously disgraced, criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff to parties in the Guam governance food chain, didn’t really know him or the ramifications? C’mon man.
    (2) The limit on automatic income federal filings/notifications begins at $10,000, HH invoiced at $9,000 per 36 times, totaling $324,000, thus a case was made that HH conspired, hence the felony indictments issued by Guam’s Superior Court Grand Jury in late December 2006. In HH’s mind, apparently he expected everyone to believe that $9,000 was a random number, coincidental?
    (3) When received, HH deposited those “no alarm bell ringing” $9,000 checks into his own personal account, avoiding “procurement laws,” later transferring to his law firm where he was employed (Greenberg Traurig). Why weren’t the checks honestly, openly written to the law firm from the start? It smelled suspicious and still does.
    I get it, HH’s is someone trying to rehab his personal character’s history, to get a more balanced idea of just how bad this smelled to locals, browsers should go to and read the postings chronologically there.
    Lay down with dogs, come up with fleas—–Abramoff and Sanchez make interesting “acquaintances,” huh?
    You’ll read who in the upper food chain got bought off and by whom, the players.
    Punch in “Tony Sanchez, Howard Hills Indicted” very informative.
    Sanchez WAS the Guam Governor’s Chief of Communications, he couldn’t hide behind naïveté regarding unlawful influence, conspiracy, theft of property held in trust, misconduct, etc..
    Once indicted, HH “cooperated” with Guam authorities, gave them the dirt on what they needed on his “acquaintances” and walked out a free man….like Sgt. Schultz on HOGAN’S HEROES, he pled “I know nothing, nothing.”

  3. Michele, I don’t get the dogged, blind defense of this person.
    I don’t begrudge him the rehabilitation of his image, just stop evading the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” aspect regarding the Guam scandal—-or the company he kept.
    What he became embroiled in wasn’t the same as some teenager caught with a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine in his car, he’d worked in and around government agencies as an attorney for some 25+ years, correct?
    IMO, it appears to me that he couldn’t hide anyway, realized his mistakes, his choice of the fellow players showed lack of judgment, and he went back to doing good deeds—but no doubt for the bling as well. It’s not cheap living here.
    Why he didn’t express remorse about those poor choices and decisions is telling though, isn’t it? We’re a culture that forgives after open confessions, perhaps his life subsequently can be contrition, but at what hourly billing rate?
    He apparently besmirched himself, he was a what, 50 year old attorney with excellent historical credentials, and he retroactively claims ignorance, wants us to believe that he was clueless?
    “Character is fate.” Heraclitus of Ephesus.
    HH met his.
    –30– (End of story)

  4. Wikipedia:
    “Hills received “NO” compensation.
    “BEFORE” indictments or investigations were “INITIATED”, Hills “HALTED” his temporary contract with Abramoff and “REPORTED” what he thought was suspicious behavior to Public Officials.”
    It is a SAD day in America when you are wrongly accused of something which you choose to fight to clear your name and 20 years latter someone labels you GUILTY after haven been “FULLY” exonerated.
    That is a very dangerous thing to do and opens you up to some serious libel. I would suggest you contact Howard Hills and have a dialog to determine if you want to hold fast to your comments above or offer a retraction and apology.
    Best Wishes and Good Luck!!!!

  5. Friends, thanks for all the support. I feel like George Bailey at the end of the movie after Mr. Potter – who was twisted by life – accused George of committing all matter of crimes. Don’t try to reason with people you know have no interest in truth. Some people get triggered when someone they compare themselves to is not as miserable as they are with their lives. It’s called overcompensation.

    If what is alleged here were true I would have gone to jail and would have deserved it. I certainly would not be serving my country at the request of our government’s senior leaders, who came and recruited me, and asked me to answer the call of duty again.

    The truth is that I was never the target of a federal or state investigation, and the allegations against me by a local prosecutor in the territory of Guam were aimed at others, but I was wrongly charged as a co-conspirator. I refused to plea bargain or pay a fine because I was innocent. I did not hire a clever lawyer to try and get acquitted by a jury. I was dropped from the case by motion of the government prosecutors based on evidence I provided, and in dismissing my case the judge also granted the government’s motion to expunge the record of charges proven false, despite press efforts to convict me. I will provide Indy with the two letters in which the prosecutors on their own initiative stated I was “fully exonerated” and “did not commit any crimes charged.”

    Just as the bank examiners summoned by Mr. Potter in the classic movie donated to George Bailey’s defense fund and cleared him of all allegations, the prosecutor of record in Guam for my case contributed to the authoritative Wikipedia report on the Guam Jack Abramoff case, a case in which I was cleared with a very rare letter of exoneration by the prosecutor who accused me. I was not allowed by Wikipedia to tell my own story, so his version is not influenced by me.

    Finally, after a few years my prosecutor and I stayed in touch and became respectful friends. So I am grateful to have prevailed and defended my honor and that of my family name. I survived the crucible with my joy in life increased not stolen. I know that triggers some who have never recovered the sense of self-efficacy they lost after failing to fulfill their potential. That instills a bitterness, along with loss of the opportunity to make the world a less angry and better place because of one was here.

    Thanks again, all who reached out. I don’t mind explaining it once again. What I learned is that we should stick to the golden rule, but never think others will not do or say something to or about you that you would not do to or say about them.

    Peace, love, Justice. H.

  6. Check out:

    BTW, the prosecutors determined the manner in which I deposited the court’s payments to Abramoff’s firm did not attempt to evade but in fact triggered the reporting requirements for those deposits, and I never stood to gain in the transactions done at direction of a court of law. I never worked for the Greenberg law firm. It worked for me as a subcontractor for the court that employed me for lawful purposes. I realize that is a lot for some people to comprehend.

  7. Thanks, Paul McManus, that Daily Pilot piece was pretty fair. Appreciate you posting a mostly fair piece to give some perspective. That was when I was in the middle of something that seemed insurmountable, like being in the strike zone at The Wedge on a double overheard plus day. But I came through it just fine.


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