Neil Abercrombie has begun many of his official announcements by telling gathered guests and reporters just how happy he is.

That was the case again Tuesday when the governor beamed over the appointment of Sabrina Shizue McKenna to fill Mark Recktenwald‘s vacant seat on the Hawaii Supreme Court.

But it didn’t take long for him to get testy when questions started from reporters.

The administration, as Civil Beat has reported, revealed over the weekend that it would abandon Linda Lingle‘s eight-year practice of releasing the recommendations of the Judicial Selection Commission to the public.

The rationale by Abercormbie, according to his press secretary Donalyn Dela Cruz, was that it would be “detrimental to attracting prospective judicial applicants. His approach in making judicial appointments is to ensure the confidentiality of these applicants.”

So, during the Q&A session following the announcement about Judge McKenna in executive chambers on Tuesday, Civil Beat asked Abercrombie if he would now release the names of the other names on the list provided by Judicial Selection Committee.

That’s when the governor’s happy face disappeared.

“No,” he said icily, speaking to the cameras rather than to the reporter (i.e., me).

“Why not?”

Here’s the governor’s answer:

Because this is a situation in which you want to maximize the pool of talent and those who would be interested in presenting themselves for the possibility of being named to the highest court. In order to do that, I need to have a confidential capacity to maintain the confidentiality of those who make themselves available. Many people in the legal community belong to firms that have clients, have cases, under way, all of which could be affected be public perusal.

The public does’t pick the judge, I do. The Senate determines whether or not through their advise and consent whether they approve of my pick. The public picks me, and the public picks the senators, to exercise our judgment on behalf of the common good.

“So who did you consult in terms of making this decision?” asked Darryl Huff of KITV. “If the public wasn’t invited as they have been in the past to send their input on nominees, who did you consult?”

“Appropriate sources,” the governor responded tersely.

McKenna a UH Law Grad

McKenna, 53, a judge on the 1st Circuit Court since 1995 and senior judge of the Family Court, is a graduate of the William S. Richardson School of Law. She was editor of the law review and is a former Rainbow Warrior basketball player.

“She will set a standard on the court for the future of Hawaii,” said the governor, who noted that judicial temperament was his biggest criteria for the job. “She is a farsighted individual, someone who has deep compassion and understanding and broad experience.”

The appointment awaits Senate confirmation.

By the way, McKenna was not on the Judicial Selection Commission list given to Lingle last June. That was the last list to be made public.

The name of Katherine Leonard was on the list, as was that of Mark Recktenwald.

In related news: The governor also said he would look to lift the retirement age for state judges, which is 70 — an age two years younger than the governor himself.

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