UPDATED 11/15/11 8:45 a.m.

It was nearly a year ago that Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Sabrina McKenna to the Hawaii Supreme Court without revealing the other finalists for the job.

On Monday, a judge told Abercrombie the short list of nominees is a public record that must be released. The fight over the list — which included Abercrombie firing the state’s open records chief — has been one of the issues on which Abercrombie has taken criticism in his rocky first year.

Judge Karl Sakamoto ruled in favor of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, which filed a lawsuit seeking the names. The governor had argued that the list was exempt from the state’s open records law because revealing finalists’ names would discourage lawyers from applying for judgeships. Sakamoto found no evidence to support any exemptions, according to the newspaper.

UPDATE Diane Hastert, an attorney for the newspaper, told Civil Beat Sakamoto’s ruling has two effects.

First, Abercrombie needs to produce the list of names provided to him by the Judicial Selection Commission for the post eventually filled by McKenna. Second, governors going forward will need to share the list of judicial nominees no later than after the Hawaii Senate confirms appointees.

The state has not yet decided whether it will appeal the case to prevent the disclosure of the names.

“Obviously, we are disappointed with Circuit Court’s oral ruling today,” Attorney General David Louie said in a press release. “Once we receive the court’s written order and have the opportunity to thoroughly review it and consider other relevant factors, we will decide how to respond.”

Joshua Wisch, spokesman for the department, said there would be no further comment.

A clerk in Sakamoto’s chambers told Civil Beat that the newspaper has 10 days to prepare and submit a proposed written order for the judge to approve.

UPDATE Civil Beat wrote an “Off the Beat”1 article on the ruling here: Off The Beat: Time To Free The Judicial Nominees

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald reveals the names of finalists for the judicial positions he fills, as did his predecessor, Ronald Moon. Former Govs. Ben Cayetano and Linda Lingle also revealed the names.

Read the rest of Civil Beat’s coverage of the issue:

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