Sonja McCullen, a Honolulu deputy prosecuting attorney, won unanimous approval by the Senate Friday morning to fill a vacancy on the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.

The confirmation vote followed two days of preliminary hearings before a panel of state senators who evaluated McCullen’s credentials, questioned her on her legal positions and heard from her supporters.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Karl Rhoads, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called McCullen well qualified for the position on the ICA, noting her 11 years working in the appellate division of the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office. There, McCullen filed 171 briefs to the ICA and argued 20 cases before the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Sen. Karl Rhoads, left, and Intermediate Court of Appeals nominee Sonja McCullen, right, after the Senate confirmed McCullen for a seat on the ICA. Screenshot

She previously worked as an investigator for the state Crime Victim Compensation Commission and as a staff attorney for United Public Workers, one of the state’s largest government workers unions.

McCullen clerked for Associate Justice Paula Nakayama. Prior to her legal career, she taught at Waianae High School.

McCullen will be the first Native Hawaiian appointed to a Hawaii appeals court in decades.

Gov. David Ige’s last pick to fill the ICA vacancy, state Ethics Commission Director Dan Gluck, faced heavy opposition from senators and individuals in the legal field for a lack of trial experience compared to the other ICA candidates. That Gluck, who is white, was chosen from a list that included women of color also factored into the criticism.

His nomination helped to shine a light on the gender and ethnic makeup of Hawaii’s court system, where fewer than half of sitting judges are women.

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