Notes Between Lingle, Judge Selectors Stay Secret

Today the spotlight will be on Associate Justice Mark Recktenwald as he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to be considered for the position of chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

His path to the office is expected to be smooth, unlike the previous nominee, Judge Katherine Leonard, who was rejected both by the committee and the full Senate. In making the nomination, Gov. Linda Lingle pointed out that Leonard would shatter the glass ceiling as the first female chief justice and would be the first justice from the William S. Richardson School of Law.

Even before Leonard appeared before the committee, the spotlight had already shifted to the Hawaii State Bar Association, whose determination that she was unqualified for the post immediately drew fire. Critics complained that the rating came with no explanation and no vote count of the association's 20-member board.

Civil Beat responded to the controversy by holding a Beatup Thursday to explore the bar's policies. A point was made by one of our guests: The powerful Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission, which put Leonard and Recktenwald on the short list in the first place, deserved as much scrutiny for its secrecy as the bar association.

We had already begun exploring the commission's role and practices. Commission deliberations are required to be confidential by the Hawaii Constitution and commission rules [pdf]. And as with the bar association, the results of the vote and the rationale for the results are not made available to the public. But the commission must provide the governor a list of four to six names for each vacancy, along with biographical information.

Leonard was one of six names on an alphabetized list Lingle received from the commission on June 22. Included with that list, according to Commission Chair Sheri Sakamoto, were short bios on each of the potential nominees. Sakamoto told Civil Beat that the information — such as date of birth, work history, year law degree was obtained and year the nominee passed the bar exam — does not indicate any preference for one of the six candidates.

On Aug. 3, Civil Beat asked to review [pdf] all written correspondence between the Governor's Office and the commission since Jan. 1 so we could determine for ourselves if the commission expressed, implicitly or explicitly, preferences for one appointee or another, particularly in the writing of the biographies.

The Governor's Office responded last week, providing the list of names and copies of the letters she sent to the commission announcing her choices, all of which had been previously released. But she rejected the request for everything else, citing exceptions to the state's Uniform Information Practices Act. On Tuesday, Civil Beat filed an appeal with the Office of Information Practices.

Here's a detailed explanation of Civil Beat's request and the governor's response.

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