Gov. David Ige has picked Todd Eddins, a 1st Circuit Court judge and former defense attorney, to fill a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court.

Eddins will be Ige’s first and likely only pick for the high court, a decision that will have lasting effects beyond the governor’s tenure. 

Pending approval of the state Senate, Eddins will replace Associate Justice Richard Pollack, who retired in June after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Judge Todd Eddins nominated by Governor Ige for the Hawaii Supreme Court.

1st Circuit Court Judge Todd Eddins was picked Friday to fill a vacancy on the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Eddins is expected to join Associate Justices Sabrina McKenna and Michael Wilson in a liberal-leaning majority on the court that Pollack helped to solidify with his appointment in 2012, according to multiple interviews with individuals in the legal community.

Asked about where he sees himself fitting in with the other justices, Eddins said “I have an allegiance to the rule of law.”

“Wherever the facts and the law will lead me, that’s where I’ll go,” he said.

Eddins, also a former public defender like Pollack, would bring criminal trial experience to the court from both sides of the bench.

As a defense attorney, Eddins has represented well known clients, like former Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi, who was accused of illegal usage of a government spending card. He also represented a juvenile allegedly involved in the killing of albatross at Kaena Point.

He’s seen as an even-tempered judge who has ruled on high profile cases, such as a recent decision to dismiss attempted murder charges against a woman who was fleeing a man trying to attack her with a pipe and a 2019 case in which a road-rage suspect appeared in court in blackface.

He presided over 85 jury trials, Ige said. Eddins was nominated to the circuit court by Ige in 2017.

Eddins has also filled in on the state Supreme Court, most recently during oral arguments in a case to impeach Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro. Most of his experience is in criminal matters, though lawyers and citizens supporting his 2017 nomination to the 1st Circuit Court noted his civil experience as well.

“He understands the law and the role of a judge,” Ige said.

The Senate will have until Nov. 22 to vet Eddins’ appointment and put him up for a vote by the full 25-member chamber. If a special session is not called in time, the new justice will automatically be confirmed and take his seat on the court without the Senate’s approval.

A special session to confirm Eddins is likely to take place after the Nov. 3 election.

The last justice to go through that process was Associate Justice Michael Wilson, who was ultimately appointed after the Hawaii State Bar Association rated him “unqualified” and raised vague allegations over his suitability for the position. 

The last time the Senate rejected a candidate came in 2010, when the Senate voted down Intermediate Court of Appeals Associate Judge Katherine Leonard, who was nominated by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle to be the court’s chief justice.

The court’s split has been most evident in criminal cases. With McKenna, Wilson and Pollack ruling opposite Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald and Associate Justice Paula Nakayama. Though at times, as recently as June, Recktenwald and Nakayama have joined the other three in rulings on criminal matters that favor defendants.

The other candidates the governor considered were David Forman, director of the Environmental Law Program at the William S. Richardson School of Law; Darolyn Heim, a Honolulu District Court judge; and Benjamin Lowenthal, a deputy public defender and columnist on Maui.

While Eddins will likely be Ige’s only pick for the state Supreme Court, his successor will get three due to Recktenwald, Wilson and Nakayama hitting the mandatory retirement age of 70 during the next governor’s term. 

Correction: A previous version of this story stated the wrong names of justices expected to retire during the next governor’s term. 

The last governor to have three court picks was Neil Abercrombie.

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