Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Panel OK's To'oto'o despite poor rating

By Ken Kobayashi


A Honolulu district judge's appointment to the Circuit Court bench was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, even though the nominee was rated "unqualified" by the Hawaii State Bar Association.

The committee voted 5-0 to recommend approval of Gov. Linda Lingle's appointment of Faauuga To'oto'o and sent the nomination to the Senate for confirmation today.

To'oto'o, a district judge for nearly 16 years, was one of two judges this week to receive the "unqualified" finding by the Hawaii State Bar Association's board of directors. Appeals Judge Katherine Leonard, who was nominated as chief justice, also received the "unqualified" vote. The committee voted not to approve her appointment.

Lingle said "to ignore the (bar association board's vote) for Judge To'oto'o but not for Judge Leonard makes no sense and creates a double standard."

Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said no one opposed To'oto'o during his hearing on Monday, when he received widespread support.

Leonard received strong support, but the committee also heard from some individuals who opposed her appointment and had concerns about it, he said.

To'oto'o, 52, a Waimanalo resident who was born in American Samoa and who would be the first circuit judge of Samoan ancestry, was supported by prosecutors and defense lawyers, police, District Court personnel, community leaders and others.

He was praised for his work as a district judge and his community service of helping disadvantaged and troubled youths.

"I am those kids if I didn't buy into the importance of education," he told the committee.

The committee also voted unanimously to recommend that the Senate approve today the appointments of six other judicial appointments -- two by Lingle to the Circuit Court and four by Chief Justice Ronald Moon to the District Court.

The Circuit Court nominees are Jeannette Castagnetti and Colette Garibaldi. The District Court appointees are Sherri-Ann Iha, Steven Nakashima, Michael Tanigawa and Matthew Viola.

The Circuit Court appointments are for 10 years. District judges serve six years.

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