The Senate is poised this week to approve five women as judges after an appeals court vacancy this summer raised questions about the diversity of the state Judiciary.

Gov. David Ige filled five judicial vacancies in three circuit courts, which hear felony criminal cases and high-level civil suits. In the past, nominees to these higher court positions were typically men.

Of Ige’s 25 court appointees prior to October, eight have been women.

But earlier this month, Ige nominated four women – Clarissa Malinao, Shanlyn Park, Kirstin Hamman and Wendy DeWeese – to fill those circuit court vacancies. He also appointed Kevin Morikone to a position on the First Circuit Court.

District Judge Clarissa Malinao says she never imagined she would be nominated to a high court position. In Hawaii, men have historically outnumbered women on the bench. Screenshot

In addition, Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, who has historically appointed more women than men, appointed Kimberly Taniyama to a Big Island district court.

On Wednesday, the six nominees for judicial positions across the islands had their first day before a panel of senators. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take a preliminary vote on the nominations Thursday, and barring anything unexpected, all should cruise through the nomination process in a final floor vote Friday.

Levi Hookano, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, told senators that the bar association found all the nominees qualified.

Ige’s selection of four women to the bench has already garnered praise from state legislators.

“For the first time in recent memory, nearly all the individuals being considered by the Senate to fill judicial vacancies are women. We applaud the Governor for recognizing the need for gender diversification in the courts and look forward to reviewing their qualifications during this week’s convening,” Sens. Michelle Kidani and Roz Baker, conveners of the Senate Women’s Caucus, said in a statement.

District Court Judge Kirstin Hamman, who Ige appointed to Maui’s Second Circuit Court, said she applied because Maui County is losing its only woman judge on the circuit court with the retirement of Circuit Judge Rhonda Loo.

“I felt it was important for me to use this time to go and apply and give back to the community,” Hamman said.

She was one of only two women who applied for the vacancy.

 

District Judge Kirstin Hamman will be the only woman on the Second Circuit Court if her nomination clears the Senate. Screenshot

Men have historically outnumbered women in applications for judicial positions. That was still the case this time around. However, women outnumbered men on short lists of names sent to Ige for consideration.

Malinao, Ige’s nominee for the First Circuit Court, said in her opening remarks to senators Wednesday that she is the daughter of Filipino immigrants. Her father is a Navy veteran, and Malinao said her mother performed manual labor from a young age to help her family.

“It’s from their experiences that have instilled in me the values of hard work, to be resilient in the face of adversity, to remain humble and respectful and pay it forward,” she said.

In choosing nominees, Ige has said he only considers who would be best for the community regardless of gender or ethnic backgrounds. In 2017, the governor called for more women to apply to fill vacancies.

The panel of senators asked each candidate how they would balance meting out punishment with advancing social justice and judicial reforms.

Park, an attorney for 26 years and nominee for the First Circuit Court, said that court guidelines give judges some leeway in determining the proper punishment for a crime whether that be incarceration, vocational training or mental health treatment.

“There is the ability to balance all of that,” she said.

These nominations come on the heels of a heated debate over the diversity of Hawaii’s judiciary following the controversial appointment of state Ethics Commission Director Dan Gluck to serve on the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

After the Senate rejected Gluck’s nomination, Ige appointed Sonja McCullen, a Native Hawaiian woman, to the vacant seat on the ICA. The Senate confirmed her in September.

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