Echoing the same concerns raised this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee — namely, a lack of leadership and management experience — the Hawaii State Senate today rejected Katherine Leonard as chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.
The vote was 14-8, with six Democrats joining the Senate’s two Republicans in supporting Leonard.
“Despite her many, many positive qualties, I have serious doubt that Judge Leonard can lead the judiciary at this point in her career. The chief justice positon is so important that it is not one that someone can grow into,” Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the judiciary committee, told the Senate.
Sen. Sam Slom, the minority floor leader, attacked the Hawaii State Bar Association‘s decision to rate Leonard as unqualified for the job as “outrageous and shameful.” Slom argued that the four men who have served as chief justice since statehood did not have as much leadership and administrative experience as Leonard before running the high court.
Gov. Linda Lingle now has 10 days to submit another nominee to replace Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who retires Sept. 4 when he turns 70.
Some senators cited the “unqualified” rating given Leonard by the bar association in casting their vote against the nominee.
The same senators, however, chose to disregard the same negative rating given to Faauuga L. To‘oto‘o, who was unanimously confirmed earlier today to the 1st Circuit Court.
During the Senate’s deliberations over court nominees, Republican senators criticized the bar’s secretive process of evaluating judicial picks. But Democrats defended the bar’s policies as necessary to ensure that attorneys are able to operate effectively before the courts.
Leonard, 50, would have been the first woman chief justice in Hawaii and the first graduate of the University of Hawaii law school on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Hemmings noted that the Leonard vote came in the same week the U.S. Senate confirmed Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said Leonard had more judicial experience than Kagan and had no political agenda. Hemmings, the minority leader in the Senate, also observed that the Senate earlier this year passed a resolution calling for the placement of more women on the bench.
Lingle To Pick From List of Five
Gov. Lingle sat next to Judge Leonard during the confirmation vote, which was held in the state Capitol’s auditorium. Before the vote, Leonard walked the room, speaking with senators and supporters and exchanging hugs.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, the governor said, “The 14 senators who voted down Judge Leonard’s confirmation represent the height of hypocrisy, given that earlier this year they all voted for a resolution calling on me to appoint more women to the bench. Yet, when given the opportunity to confirm my nomination of a woman who is eminently qualified to serve in the highest judicial position in the state, these senators revealed their true colors that their so-called resolution was purely for show.”
Lingle added, “It’s also very telling that not one woman senator supported Judge Leonard’s confirmation, despite being so impassioned about getting more women on the bench.”
Lingle is now expected to select a replacement nominee for Leonard.
The other five names on the Judicial Selection Commission’s list of chief justice candidates are Associate Justice Mark Recktenwald, Intermediate Court of Appeals Chief Judge Craig Nakamura, Intermediate Court of Appeals Associate Judge Dan Foley, and 1st Circuit Court Judges Richard Pollack and Bert Ayabe.
Like Leonard, all were previously confirmed for their current positions by the Senate, and each received favorable ratings from the bar association.
Recktenwald and Nakamura have the most administrative experience, qualifications that would likely please the bar association and the Senate. Indeed, Recktenwald was widely expected to be nominated for chief justice until Lingle picked Leonard instead.
Recktenwald has been praised for his leadership running the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs under Lingle, and for heading the Intermediate Court of Appeals — the same position Nakamura now holds.
Nakamura formerly served as an associate judge on the ICA and as an assistant U.S. attorney — a position that Recktenwald also once held.
But the nomination of either candidate would result in another vacancy, and the Judicial Selection Commission would be hard-pressed to vet six candidates and submit their names to Lingle before her term in office expires in early December.
Of the other three candidates, Ayabe has the most experience on the bench, having served as a District Court judge before joining the Circuit Court.
Once the Senate receives the governor’s nomination, Senators will have 30 days to confirm or reject the nominee.
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