Understanding the Katherine Leonard Pick

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The betting in legal and political circles around town is that Katherine Leonard will be Hawaii's next supreme court chief justice.

Barring a shocking revelation during her Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, which begin Tuesday, the conventional wisdom is that senators won't have much reason not to confirm the state's first female "CJ" and first graduate of the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law.

But she still could face hurdles, the largest of which would be a negative rating from the Hawaii State Bar Association. The bar is expected to weigh in as soon as today. Leonard, 50, has less than three years experience on the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals and some critics have claimed she lacks substantive administrative experience. Ronald Moon, who will retire Sept. 4 because justices must leave the bench at age 70, is in charge of a state judiciary that employees about 1,800.

Leonard's nomination was a surprise because it was generally believed that Associate Justice Mark Recktenwald was the best-qualified candidate and a shoo-in for the job, so much so that the commission that puts forward candidates for the nomination had to extend its deadline to find enough candidates willing to be considered for the job.

Finally, politics always plays a factor. This is an election year, and more than half the state Senate is up for re-election or is seeking higher office, including Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.

The Democrat-controlled Legislature will have to decide whether it is more expedient to confirm Leonard quickly, or try to score political points by shooting down a Republican governor's nominee. If Democrats were able to do that, they could hand the choice over to the next governor, and a Democrat is favored to win.

Civil Beat examines the Leonard pick.

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