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Senate rejects high court pick

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    Gov. Linda Lingle sat with judge Katherine Leonard and her family yesterday listening to state senators debate Leonard's qualifications before they voted to reject her as chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.
    Judge Katherine Leonard got a hug from her son, Ian Sandison Jr., yesterday after the state Senate voted 14-8 to reject her as chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Gov. Linda Lingle blasted the state Senate’s rejection of Katherine Leonard as chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court yesterday, calling the 14 lawmakers who voted against her nominee hypocritical.

The 14-8 vote was the first time the Senate has turned down a governor’s chief justice nomination and the first time in 17 years that the senators rejected a gubernatorial appointment to the five-member Hawaii Supreme Court.

The governor now must select the next chief justice from a list of five state judges.

Lingle had called her appointment of Leonard the most important of her two terms as governor and noted that the 50-year-old jurist would have been the state’s first female chief justice.

She said yesterday in a statement that Leonard was "a victim of bias that had no merit or basis."

Those who voted against Leonard, which included all seven female senators, "represent the height of hypocrisy, given that earlier this year they all voted for a resolution to appoint more women to the bench," Lingle said.

They "revealed their true colors that their so-called resolution was purely for show," Lingle said.

The governor’s next choice will be one of five men, the remaining candidates on a list submitted to her by the Judicial Selection Commission.


The Senate rejected Gov. Linda Lingle’s appointment of Appellate Judge Katherine Leonard as the next chief justice by a 14-8 vote.

» REJECT: Rosalyn Baker, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Carol Fukunaga, Clayton Hee, David Ige, Les Ihara Jr., Michelle Kidani, Donna Mercado Kim, Russell Kokubun, Clarence Nishihara, Dwight Takamine, Brian Taniguchi, Jill Tokuda, Colleen Hanabusa (Senate president)

» APPROVE: Will Espero, Mike Gabbard, Brickwood Galuteria, Josh Green, Fred Hemmings, Norman Sakamoto, Sam Slom, Shan Tsutsui

» The Senate’s only two Republicans — Hemmings and Slom — voted to approve. The other senators are Democrats.


Lingle must make the appointment under the state Constitution within 10 days of yesterday. The appointment again will be subject to Senate confirmation.

Her appointee would replace Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who because of the state retirement law for justices and judges will leave the bench before Sept. 4 when he turns 70.

Leonard, one of six judges on the Intermediate Court of Appeals, was picked on July 22, but the nomination hit a snag when the Hawaii State Bar Association’s board voted that she was "unqualified." The board did not disclose the reason for its negative rating.

Most of the senators who spoke against Leonard’s appointment acknowledged she has admirable legal skills, but said she did not have enough of a track record to show she could lead the state’s third branch of government.

The other five candidates are Associate Justice Mark Recktenwald, Chief Judge Craig Nakamura of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, Appellate Judge Daniel Foley and Circuit Judges Richard Pollack and Bert Ayabe.

"I think all five are qualified," Sen. Brian Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said this week. "We have to see what comes up and, again, vet that candidate."

Taniguchi’s committee voted 4-1 to recommend that the full Senate reject Leonard. The five-member committee will hold hearings on the new appointee.

Recktenwald had been considered by many in the legal community as Lingle’s choice before she chose Leonard. He served in her Cabinet as head of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs before she named him chief judge of the appeals court in 2007 and to the high court last year.

Nakamura, a former assistant U.S. attorney, was appointed by Lingle to the appeals court in 2004 and as chief judge last year, when Recktenwald went to the high court.

Bert Ayabe, a former partner in Dandar & Ayabe, was named to the Circuit Court by Lingle in 2004. The other two were appointed by former Gov. Ben Cayetano. Daniel Foley, former American Civil Liberties Union legal director, was appointed to the appeals court in 2000. Richard Pollack, former state public defender, was named to the Circuit Court in 2000.

Most of the senators who spoke against Leonard’s nomination acknowledged that she has a brilliant legal mind but contended she lacked the track record to provide the leadership to head the state’s high court.

During yesterday’s hearing at the state Capitol auditorium, Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui) said she opposed Leonard with regret and sadness and has advocated for more women on the bench.

"She does not at this time have the requisite skills, experiences, abilities and knowledge for the administrative side of the equation to lead the Judiciary at this critical junction," Baker said.

The governor sat quietly next to Leonard and her family.

"I just want to say my overwhelming reaction is a sense of gratitude, and I’m just deeply honored," Leonard told reporters.

She expressed thanks to a number of people, including the Judicial Selection Commission, the governor and those who supported her.

But she shied away from talking about whether she thought the senatorial confirmation process was fair or from expressing any thoughts about the bar association’s board.

"One of the things about being an appellate court judge, you get to think things over before you make up your mind," she said.

Leonard was the editor-in-chief of the Law Review at the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson law school before she spent a successful career at Carlsmith Ball, one of Honolulu’s oldest, largest and most prestigious law firms. Lingle appointed her to the Intermediate Court of Appeals in 2008.

In selecting her, the governor noted that Leonard would be the first graduate of the UH law school to sit on the high court.

Her nomination was supported by more than 100 people, including the 400-member Hawaii Women Lawyers; retired Associate Justice Robert Klein; other retired judges; prosecuting and defense attorneys; former bar association presidents; and other downtown Honolulu legal heavyweights.

But Taniguchi cited the bar association board’s vote and the testimony of several individuals, including retired Circuit Judge Marie Milks, when the committee voted Thursday to recommend against confirmation.

He told the senators yesterday that he spoke to Lingle and Leonard about the nominee’s qualities and ability to lead the Judiciary but still had doubts that at this point in her career she could lead the Judiciary.

Senate minority leader Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) cited the resolution urging Lingle for more female judges that passed the Senate by a 23-2 vote. "You have a chance today to achieve your goals," he said.

The last time the Senate rejected a Supreme Court nominee was in 1993. Senators voted down then-Gov. John Waihee’s appointment of Sharon Himeno, wife of his attorney general, Warren Price.


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