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Hawaii News

Lingle pushes for Leonard

Gov. Linda Lingle plans a "full-court press" for appeals Judge Katherine Leonard as Hawaii’s next chief justice after hearing yesterday that the state Senate has serious concerns about her leadership and administrative abilities.

Katherine Leonard:
Gov. Linda Lingle
is campaigning for
her nominee to head
the state Supreme Court
after learning state senators
have qualms about the
appeals judge’s qualifications

Lingle met privately yesterday with state Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Government Operations Committee, to try to dispel concerns raised by senators and some in the legal community. The governor asked for the meeting after it appeared over the past few days that her nominee was in jeopardy.

"We talked a lot about leadership and about administrative experience and how they play and how they should be judged in terms of this nomination," Taniguchi said.

Several Senate sources, speaking privately, said the Senate might be leaning against confirming Leonard. Lingle, however, remains optimistic. She said senators "have a chance to do the right thing."

"My bottom line is that I’m not choosing a chief administrator. I’m not choosing a clerical person for this job. I’m choosing the leader who will set the tone for jurisprudence in the state for a decade to come," Lingle said.

Taniguchi’s committee is scheduled to vote today on whether to recommend Leonard to the Senate for a 10-year term as chief justice of the state Supreme Court. The full Senate is expected to vote on Leonard tomorrow.

Senate Democrats, who hold 23 of the 25 seats in the chamber, met privately in caucus yesterday to review Leonard and the nominations of seven other judges to the Circuit and District court benches. The Senate has advise-and-consent power over judicial nominees.

Taniguchi said after the caucus that he had concerns about Leonard’s ability to lead one of the three branches of government.

The Hawaii State Bar Association’s board of directors rated Leonard "unqualified" for the position and several lawyers have questioned whether she has the experience and administrative skills for the post. Her supporters, including state Attorney General Mark Bennett and other prominent members of the legal community, have defended Leonard as capable and well-suited for the responsibilities of chief justice.

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makaha) said the Senate would likely rely heavily on the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation.

"Like with most situations, I think most people will take a good part of their lead from the recommendations of the committee," she said.

The bar association gave "qualified" ratings to six of the nominations now before the Senate, but found that Leonard and Circuit Judge nominee Faauuga To’oto’o were unqualified. The bar association did not disclose the reasons for the findings.

Lingle has called the "unqualified" recommendations "outrageous."

Hanabusa said she will wait for the Judiciary Committee’s report today, but "clearly the fact that (the bar association) has come out ‘unqualified’ is very troubling."

The Judiciary Committee also held hearings on Lingle’s appointments of Jeannette Castagnetti and Colette Garibaldi to the Circuit Court bench and Chief Justice Ronald Moon’s appointments of Sherri-Ann Iha, Steven Nakashima, Michael Tanigawa and Matthew Viola to the District Court bench.

The Circuit Court appointments are for 10-year terms. District judgeships are for six-year terms.


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