I don’t know Ronald Moon, our soon-to-be retired state Supreme Court chief justice, but I understand and share his worries about the Hawaii Bar Association.
In December of 2008, Moon delivered a comprehensive and well-thought-out speech on the perils of selecting judges, warning that if Hawaii doesn’t clean up its act, we could wind up with elected judges — something he and most people agree is a lousy idea.
The chief justice fears that without more transparency in the process, voters someday would change the state Constitution to allow either for the direct election of judges or a vote on retaining a judge.
What was needed, Moon said, was a way "to determine how our current process can be improved to enhance public confidence in the way we select and retain judges."
Since then nothing happened and now the state Senate is faced with voting on the confirmation of two judges who the bar association said were "not qualified."
Why are they not qualified? The bar association won’t say. Who said they were not qualified? The bar won’t say. How many lawyers said the two were unqualified? Ditto.
Back in 2004, after the state Senate bounced Ted Hong as a Circuit Court nominee, partially because the bar association said he was not qualified, the lawyers’ group got together to see if it could improve the process.
Moon said the committee recommended that the bar association "cease its current practice of rating nominees" because the Judicial Selection Commission already does this and second-guessing the commission could be "harmful to the public’s confidence in the process."
The advice was not taken.
If one wanted to weaken public confidence, a few hours of watching the state Senate go about its business should be enough for anyone to question the entire democratic process.
The bar association worried, according to an article in last year’s bar journal, that comments had to be secret to "avoid real or perceived retaliation by the appointee."
The bar association does have a face-to-face interview with the judicial candidates and it is a wonder that the attorneys don’t at least wear masks and disguise their voices to keep the potential judges from knowing who was being mean to them.
Those nominated to federal court also get a review by the national bar association, but in these cases, the lawyers are able to put on their big boy pants and say on the record what they like and dislike about an appointee.
Moon told lawyers back in 2008 to "convince the HSBA (bar association) to abandon its rating of judicial appointees and encourage its …" members to send information it gathers to the governor.
Good advice. Even though Moon will retire next month, the bar should still consider his proposal.