Gov. Linda Lingle’s appointment of Associate Justice Mark Recktenwald as chief justice sailed through Senate confirmation yesterday, but she won’t get to name his replacement on the five-member Hawaii Supreme Court.
The Senate unanimously approved Recktenwald’s appointment by a 22-0 vote to head the state Judiciary for the next 10 years, clearing the way for the Judicial Selection Commission to start looking for candidates to replace him.
After the vote, the commission announced the deadline for applications is Dec. 2, four days before Lingle leaves office, which means it would be submitting a list of candidates to Hawaii’s next governor.
Recktenwald, 54, is expected to be sworn in this month to become the state’s fifth chief justice and head of a judiciary with 1,800 employees.
He said he’s looking forward to working with the legal community and the public in carrying out the judiciary’s mission of providing equal justice for all, but he declined to predict how he will rule in cases and says he has no judicial agenda.
"I would hope for a court that is fair, impartial, decides cases promptly and is respectful and transparent," Recktenwald said after the vote.
During the Senate proceedings, Sen. Kalani English called confirmation "a momentous occasion," which last happened more than 17 years ago with the confirmation of Chief Justice Ronald Moon.
Moon stepped down this week because of the constitutional requirement that justices and judges retire at age 70. Moon turns 70 tomorrow.
Because two other associate justices, James Duffy and Simeon Acoba, must step down under the same mandatory retirement law during the next governor’s term, the next governor’s three appointees will make up a majority of the court.
Paula Nakayama, the most senior associate justice, will serve as acting chief justice until Recktenwald is sworn in.
Lingle did not attend yesterday’s session, but later issued a statement saying she was "very pleased" with the unanimous vote.
"The people of Hawaii can feel confident, as I am, that they will have a chief justice who will guide our courts with fairness and integrity in upholding the rule of law and our constitution," she said.
Sen. Brian Taniguchi, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Senate during the confirmation hearing that he supports Recktenwald.
He said Recktenwald indicated he will seek public input and appoint district judges who are representative of the community; continue the transition from a paper-based to an electronic -based system at the judiciary, and strive to improve the efficiency and transparency of the judiciary.
"I am convinced he can do the job," Taniguchi said.
Recktenwald, known for his leadership skills and collegiality, said he was honored and "humbled because of the great hopes and expectations so many people have in me as chief justice."
Lingle named Recktenwald, a Republican, to her Cabinet as the director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, then chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals and last year, associate justice.
But Lingle surprised many in the legal community when she chose appeals judge Katherine Leonard as Moon’s replacement and not Recktenwald. The Senate, however, in an unprecedented move rejected Leonard’s appointment by a 14-8 vote.
Lingle subsequently chose Recktenwald last month.
Recktenwald indicated yesterday he took a philosophical view and was not disappointed that Leonard was Lingle’s first choice.
He said he "completely respected" Lingle’s decision and vowed at the time to be the best associate justice he could be.
"It gave me sort of an opportunity to think, ‘It’s not really about the person; it’s not about me. It’s about the institution. It’s about the ideals we serve, which is justice for all, and it’s about the people which we serve in our entire community,’" he said.
"It puts things in that perspective for me and I’ll try to keep that perspective throughout my term."
Sheri Sakamoto, chairwoman of the Judicial Selection Commission, could not be reached for comment on why the nine-member commission set the deadline for Dec. 2. But the commission also said it is also looking for applicants for a Maui circuit judge and two Honolulu district judges.
The deadline is Dec. 2 for all positions.