Tuesday, November 24, 2015         

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Governor will keep high court nominees secret

By Ken Kobayashi


Despite the opinion by the head of the state agency that administers Hawaii's open-records law, Gov. Neil Abercrombie will not release the names of candidates to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

"The governor stands by his decision," his spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said yesterday. "He believes getting the names out is detrimental to attracting prospective judicial applicants."

Abercrombie departed from the practices of his predecessors by refusing to disclose the list of the other candidates to the high court sent to him by the Judicial Selection Commission.

He nominated Family Court Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna last month to a 10-year term as an associate justice on the five-member court.

Last week, Cathy Takase, acting director of the state Office of Information Practices, sent the Star-Advertiser a letter that said the reasons for keeping the names confidential would end once the governor's judicial nominee is confirmed by the state Senate.

Takase later said once McKenna is confirmed, the governor must release the names under state law.

The Senate vote on McKenna's appointment is scheduled for next week, although the day has not been selected, according to the Senate communications office.

Dela Cruz said Abercrombie is aware of the letter, but said it doesn't specifically say the governor must release the names and that they haven't had a chance to talk to Takase.

"His position hasn't changed," Dela Cruz said.

"His approach in making judicial appointments is to ensure the confidentiality of the applicants."

Former Gov. Linda Lingle and former Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who appointed district judges, released the names and sought public comment before they made their nominations.

Former Gov. Ben Cayetano released the names after he made his appointments.

Abercrombie's refusal has sparked criticism by open-government advocates, while some in the legal community say they agree with Abercrombie's rationale in keeping the names secret.

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