Hawaii Bar Association's Secrecy Under Fire

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

Katherine Leonard is the one who's seeking to become the state's top judge, but on Tuesday it seemed that the Hawaii State Bar Association was under as much scrutiny as the nominee.

That the association's 20-member board found Leonard "unqualified" without providing any explanation has raised as many questions as her nomination itself. Its process is now on trial. Why so last-minute? Why no vote results? And why no rationale?

Of course the secrecy is hardly isolated to the bar association. Some of the same questions could be asked of the Judicial Selection Commission that whittled the list of applicants down to six from which Gov. Linda Lingle tapped Leonard to be the nominee.

The Hawaii Constitution and state laws and rules mandate confidentiality and restrict the commission's communications to the governor to a simple alphabetized list and biographical information — in other words, no voting results and no rationale.

But the focus was firmly on the bar association early in the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing Tuesday. The bar's terse one-page written statement — faxed to the committee at about 3 p.m. Monday, an hour before the deadline, and included as Page 8 of 182 pages of testimony — offered effectively zero insight into the decision.

"Taking into consideration all of the information presented by and about the nominee and an interview with the nominee, the vote of the Board of Directors of the Hawaii State Bar Association found Katherine G. Leonard to be unqualified for the position of Chief Justice, Supreme Court, State of Hawaii," the four-paragraph testimony concluded.

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