Todd Eddins, a state judge and former defense attorney, was confirmed to serve on the state Supreme Court with unanimous support from the Senate on Thursday morning.

The new associate justice, who also had broad support from Hawaii’s legal community, was seen prior to confirmation as the candidate most likely to join the liberal-leaning majority of the court. That includes Associate Justices Sabrina McKenna and Michael Wilson, who alongside former Associate Justice Richard Pollack have ruled in 3-2 splits particularly in criminal matters. 

While it’s difficult to forecast how the new justice might fit in with the state Supreme Court, Eddins gave some clues at a hearing Monday. He doesn’t subscribe to originalism, and doesn’t plan to dictate policy from the bench. 

Eddins joins Associate Justice Paula Nakayama and Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to help round out the Supreme Court, which has been down one justice since Pollack’s retirement in June.

Associate Justice Todd Eddins and his family witnessed a confirmation vote via Zoom Thursday. Screenshot: Hawaii Senate/2020

On Thursday, there was little discussion regarding Eddins’ confirmation on the Senate floor. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Karl Rhoads noted Eddins’ vast legal experience in private practice, as well as a deputy public defender, a state Supreme Court clerk and a legislative staff attorney.

Rhoads said the committee found Eddins to be “well qualified” to take his seat on the high court.

Eddins was not present in the Senate chambers, which is closed to the public due to the ongoing pandemic, but witnessed the vote via Zoom with his wife and two of his children.

The Senate also confirmed deputy public defender Stephanie Char to a seat on Kauai’s family court. Char joined the floor session via Zoom with her mother, husband and son.

The judiciary committee, tasked with vetting nominees for the Hawaii Supreme Court, voted unanimously to support Eddins’ nomination Wednesday.

Only Sens. Kurt Fevella and Mike Gabbard voted with reservations — meaning they cast “yes” votes but had some concerns with the appointment. Fevella and Gabbard also voted with reservations Thursday morning.

Gabbard made no comments on the floor, and Fevella, the chamber’s lone Republican, asked to submit written comments only.

On Monday, Fevella questioned Eddins’ handling of a plea agreement that allowed an alleged sex offender to serve just six days in jail. The victim’s mother testified to the committee on Wednesday opposing Eddins’ confirmation.

Gabbard questioned Eddins on a case he took as a defense attorney in the mid-1990s that challenged Hawaii’s sex offender law.

In response to Gabbard, Eddins, who was unsuccessful in that case, said that it’s sometimes part of a defense attorney’s job to challenge the constitutionality of certain laws, and that he accepted the court’s ruling at the time that the law was constitutional.

Gov. David Ige appointed Eddins to the 1st Circuit Court in 2017. 

Previously he was a defense attorney who worked in private practice and as a public defender.

In 2016, Eddins represented former Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi in a case involving questionable charges to a government-issued credit card. 

On his resume, Eddins highlights the case of Tayshea Aiwohi, who Eddins represented in a case that made it to the state Supreme Court. 

In 2005, the high court overturned Aiwohi’s manslaughter charges brought against her by Honolulu prosecutors for the death of her son, who died days after birth and was found to have methamphetamine in his system, the Honolulu Advertiser reported at the time.

The state Supreme Court ruled that Aiwohi couldn’t be charged with manslaughter because state law at the time didn’t cover the conduct of a pregnant mother’s actions that result in the death of her baby. Associate Justice Paula Nakayama, who Eddins will join on the court, authored the 2005 opinion.

Eddins, who grew up in Kailua, graduated from the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii.

He will likely be Ige’s only appointment to the high court since the other justices are not expected to retire until sometime during the next governor’s term. 

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