President Donald Trump announced Tuesday the nomination of Assistant U.S. Attorney Jill Otake of Honolulu to be a judge in the federal District Court of Hawaii.
The position became vacant in 2015 when then-Chief Judge Susan Oki Mollway retired. When Mollway was appointed in 1998, she was the first Japanese-American appointed to the federal bench.
Otake, whose appointment is still subject to U.S. Senate confirmation, is the acting chief of the special crime section of the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she has worked for three years, according to a White House press release.
In the past year, she’s prosecuted cases involving a Texas man who became unruly during an American Airlines flight to Maui and a federal prison guard who lied to investigators about his “inappropriate relationships” with two female inmates.
She was also involved in the prosecution of a former Army medic, Michael Walker, who is accused of conspiring with his girlfriend to kill his wife.
Otake was one of three candidates recommended for the judgeship in 2015 by a federal judicial selection panel made of members picked by U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz.
The two other candidates at that time included former Hawaii Attorney General David Louie and Clare Connors, a private practice attorney who previously worked as a federal prosecutor. President Barack Obama nominated Connors, but the Senate never voted on her confirmation.
“Ms. Otake is a well-qualified nominee to serve on the U.S. District Court,” Hirono said in a joint statement issued Tuesday with Schatz’s office. “As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I made clear to the White House that I would only give my consent to a qualified, impartial nominee and look forward to supporting Ms. Otake’s nomination to the Senate.”
The Trump administration has put a lot of effort into reshaping the federal judiciary by picking hard-line political conservatives — many of them white males — for lifetime appointments to the bench.
For the most part the administration has been successful aside from a few recent stumbles, including the embarrassing withdrawal of nominee Matthew Peterson for a District of Columbia post. Peterson was unable to answer basic legal questions during his confirmation hearing last week.
But it appears Otake is an uncontroversial selection, at least according to Hawaii’s two senators, both of whom were involved in judicial selection negotiations.
“Jill Otake is an experienced trial attorney whose legal knowledge and sound judgment make her an excellent choice to serve as U.S. District Court judge,” Schatz said. “Jill has broad support across the political spectrum, and I’m confident she will serve the federal court and Hawaii with integrity.”
Otake is originally from Hawaii. She graduated from Iolani School before going to Georgetown University for undergraduate studies.
She earned her law degree from the the University of Washington School of Law and served as a law clerk for former Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Simeon Acoba.
Otake spent most of her prosecutorial career in Washington state. She worked for several years as a deputy prosecuting attorney in King County, Washington, before moving to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, where she was employed for nine years.
Trump has yet to announce his nominations for two more federal openings in Hawaii, including a judgeship for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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