Although he has spent most of his life as an attorney in private practice, David Louie understands public service is in his makeup.
His father, Paul, was a Presbyterian minister in California, served as a member of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and was one of three founders of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in 1975. Louie’s mother was a nurse.
After 33 years of practice in the areas of personal injury defense, construction defect litigation and commercial litigation, Louie felt compelled to change course.
Seeking a new challenge, he found it in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s "New Day" plan for Hawaii. He is the governor’s nominee to the post of attorney general.
"I thought this would be both a challenge that would be exciting in addressing and solving some difficult problems, and an opportunity to give something back," Louie said.
As the top legal officer in the state, Louie will be called on to provide guidance on such matters as the constitutionality of departmental policy, the legal implications of budget measures, or even the possibility of carrying out Abercrombie’s stated goal of settling the perceived dispute over President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
Louie sees the legal aspects to all of the issues confronting the new administration.
"The budget, the economy, how we solve that, how you make the choices and what choices you get to make given union contracts, given budgetary constraints, given federal mandates which are unfunded — all of those things come into play and there are legal aspects to all of them," Louie said.
"Obviously, it’s about trying to figure out a way forward, which is what Gov. Abercrombie wants to do, and making sure that what the policy initiatives are, are legal and constitutional and appropriate.
"Hopefully I’ll be involved in providing advice as counsel in those regards."
Abercrombie has said he hopes Louie’s reputation and credibility within the legal community would be an asset in solving some of the contentious legal issues facing the state.
Louie was born in Oakland and grew up in various parts of California. After completing undergraduate studies at Occidental College, he arrived in Hawaii soon after graduating from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California-Berkeley in 1977.
His first job was with the Honolulu firm of Case, Kay, Clause & Lynch, where he worked during his years in law school.
"They made me a job offer, and I decided that I liked Hawaii and I would stay for a while," he said. "A little while turned into 33 years."
His experience as a trial attorney is in civil litigation, including insurance defense, personal injury, construction defect, premises liability, product liability, commercial disputes, legal and real estate broker malpractice and prison litigation.
He also brings arbitration and mediation experience to the post.
But those who know him say he also brings "political smarts" from the private sector.
"I think just dealing with people, and organizations, you have to be politically akamai in order to deal with any issue and I think he’s got the ability to do that," said Hoyt Zia, senior vice president and general counsel for Hawaiian Airlines. "He’s not someone who’s brought in who has never been involved or paid attention much to politics."
Louise Ing, an attorney with Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing and a law school classmate of Louie’s, said his awareness of politics and his surroundings come from his interest in community involvement.
Louie has served terms as president, vice president and director of the Hawaii State Bar Association, and is the current vice chairman of the Hawaii Supreme Court Special Committee on Judicial Performance. He also served as chairman of the Aloha Tower Development Corp. for six years ending in 2005.
"He’s always been very progressive in the sense of not just practicing law, but also being concerned about and doing things in the community," Ing said. "I thought he had a good balance of legal skills as well as a bent toward public interest."
Zia, who has known Louie personally and professionally for more than 30 years, said the nominee also brings a level temperament to the job.
"David is not someone who overreacts to situations," Zia said. "He’s not a person with a bad temper or someone who acts out. He’s very cool.
"He handles situations as you would want an intelligent person to do it."
For Louie, calmness comes from many sources.
One in particular is from his hobby: woodworking.
He crafts wooden bowls out of koa, mango, Norfolk Island pine and other woods. A member of the Honolulu Woodturners, he has exhibited and sold bowls through Nohea Gallery.
After having admired the work of artist Ron Kent and others, Louie took a class on wood turning a couple of years ago.
"It helps me to relax," he said. "Being around rapidly spinning machinery and sharp tools brings a certain clarity of mind and concentration, which is fun."