Lisa Ginoza and Vladimir Devens advanced to a final vote by the full Senate on Tuesday.

Backed by overwhelming public testimony in support of their nominations, the state Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday voted unanimously to approve Lisa Ginoza and Vlad Devens to serve on the Hawaii Supreme Court.

The nominees await a full 25-member Senate vote Tuesday that is likely to be a formality.

Ginoza, who currently serves as chief judge for the Intermediate Court of Appeals, received 45 letters of written testimony strongly supporting her elevation to the high court. Much of the testimony came from past and present members of Hawaii’s legal community.

Devens, who currently serves as principal at the Law Offices of Vladimir P. Devens, received a similar volume and level of support. Backers included a half dozen major labor union leaders, and only a single person testified in writing against him, without offering a reason.

Both nominees were deemed “qualified” for the high court by the Hawaii State Bar Association, and both were hailed for their local roots on Oahu. 

Hawaii Supreme Court nominee Judge Lisa Ginoza, shown here during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, currently serves as chief judge for the Intermediate Court of Appeals. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Ginoza has served on the ICA since 2010 and as chief judge since 2018. She was the first deputy attorney general for the state from 2005 through 2010.

Her private practice experience includes civil litigation for 14 years with the law firm of McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon, where she became a partner. Ginoza received her juris doctor degree from the University of Hawaii Manoa William S. Richardson School of Law.

Ginoza was widely praised by her peers for her character, merit and intelligence.

“From our first year of law school, it was apparent that Judge Ginoza operated on a different plane of understanding and knowledge above and beyond our classmates,” testified Peter Kubota, judge for the Third Circuit Court on Hawaii island.

“She could see the ‘bigger picture’ of legal precedent, as they were being taught,” he added. “Her wisdom, clear and fair thinking, leadership and practicality, make her well-suited to serve Hawaii as a Supreme Court justice.”

Sen. Brandon Elefante, a member of the judiciary committee, asked Ginoza during the confirmation hearing Friday about her view on impartiality in terms of legislation that might come before her.

Ginoza noted that judges don’t get to “pick and choose” the issues that come before them.

“Our role as judges, when we are applying statutory law, it’s absolutely clear our role is to discern the intent of the Legislature in passing this statute, whatever statute we may be looking at — or statutes, often — and to apply them faithfully to the facts in the particular case before us,” she said.

Devens earned his juris doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. He has been a partner at the law firms of Meheula, Devens and Winer, and Meheula and Devens.

According to Gov. Josh Green’s administration, Devens has litigated cases at all levels of the state court system, including the Hawaii Supreme Court, the ICA, the Circuit Court, District Court, Family Court and federal courts.  Devens’ administrative agency work includes work for the Disability Compensation Division and the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

The fact that Devens has never worked as a sitting judge or justice was not seen as a liability but rather an asset.

“It is unfortunate that some have raised the issue of whether Vlad’s lack of judicial experience becomes a disqualifying factor for a nomination to the state’s highest court,” testified Colleen Hanabusa, a former Senate president and U.S. representative. “It does not; and in fact, I believe some confuse ‘judicial temperament’ with judicial experience.”

Hawaii Supreme Court nominee Vladimir Devens, shown here at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, has never worked as a sitting judge or justice. But supporters said that’s an asset, not a liability. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“Over the years, I have concluded that you know when someone has the proper judicial temperament. It is defined by the American Bar Association as ‘common sense, compassion, decisiveness, firmness, humility, open-mindedness, patience, tact and understanding,’” sh added. “Vlad has these traits. In fact, one of the primary reasons why I believe he should be on the Supreme Court is due to these traits.”

Clayton Hee, a former Senate Judiciary chair, testified that other Supreme Court justices without prior or much bench experience include William S. Richardson, Edward Nakamura, James Duffy and current Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.

Sen. Karl Rhoads, the judiciary chair, asked Devens how he might address a constitutional amendment that he personally might find “morally repugnant.” Would he enforce it?

“You’d have to still deal with the issue,” Devens replied. “I mean, you can’t run away from it. And you have to apply the same interpretation principles that were bound to apply that you would be as a judge, and you would have to deal with it in the normal course.”

“And the difficulty is that we’re required and we have to have the discipline to set aside our own feelings,” he added. “You may agree or disagree with a law, but if it passes all the tests and the muster, then you have to uphold it. That’s what you swear to do.”

Green chose Ginoza and Devens from a list of six people recommended by the Judicial Selection Commission. If confirmed, they will replace former Associate Justices Mike Wilson and Paula Nakayama, who retired earlier this year upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

There are five members on the Hawaii Supreme Court. If Ginoza is confirmed, Green will have the opportunity to name her replacement to lead the ICA.

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