Gov. Neil Abercrombie made clear Monday that the “single most important” thing he does as governor is appoint judges.

And while he relented and on Saturday released the names of nominees for the positions he’s filled so far, he hasn’t changed his view that the names shouldn’t be public, or that the law doesn’t require them to be public.

Abercrombie took issue with the Nov. 14 ruling of Judge Karl Sakamoto that the list of nominees is a public record and must be released. He charged that Sakamoto had exceeded his judicial authority by crossing into legislative territory.

The governor picked apart the ruling, calling attention to Sakamoto’s use of words and phrases such as “unique circumstance,” “special conditions” and “inconceivable.”

Asked about his decision to ultimately release the names, the governor said it had nothing to do with Sakamoto’s ruling, nor the Judicial Selection Commission’s announcement on Nov. 23 that it has changed its policy and would release the names at the same time as they’re sent to the governor.

Abercrombie instead suggested that the ruling and rule change effectively made it unnecessary to keep the names secret. But, he said he stands by his argument that the names should not be made public, and that the Legislature gave the governor discretion whether to release the names.

Not a Dog Show

The governor said releasing the names would only invite public scrutiny, as if the selection of a judge or justice could compare to, say, a dog show or a circus.

“The difference here is that a dog show is orderly and has standards that are objective,” he said.

He said that the single most important criteria in evaluating potential judges is temperament. The decisions they make, he said, affect so many people.

The governor also said what also troubled him about the judicial names was a perception, fostered by the media, that somehow he was intentionally skirting the law to make decisions tainted by politics.

“The assumption was that this was some deliberate flouting of the law by me as governor — knowingly, deliberately flouting,” he said. “That I knew what the law was and was trying to box it in. That it couldn’t have possibly have been a genuine philosophical point of view that I had, and that I had reasons for it that were not bizarre or antithetical to good order of government, but that it was a disagreement as to what constitutes good government.”

The governor resented, he said, the perception that not only did he try to get away with flouting the law, but that he also got caught.

“I’ve never operated that way,” he said. “There is nothing in my record to suggest that I would try to do such a thing. This is a genuine split based on my experience with these things.”

The governor said he took an oath to uphold the constitution, something he takes “damn seriously.”

About the Author