Gov. Neil Abercrombie is replacing the state open-records law administrator who suggested that he must release the names of judicial candidates, but his spokeswoman said the timing of the decision is not related to her opinion.
The term of acting director Cathy Takase of the Office of Information Practices expired yesterday, and she will be replaced by a director who will take over March 18.
Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the timing might appear to be "questionable," but said the decision to replace Takase is not related to her opinion about the judicial candidates’ names.
"It’s irrelevant," Dela Cruz said.
Takase has been the acting director since Paul Tsukiyama, an appointee of former Gov. Linda Lingle, left in November 2009. Takase has been with the office since 2004.
Dela Cruz said Abercrombie extended Takase’s term until Feb. 4 when he took office in December and extended it again yesterday. The spokeswoman said it is common for a new administration to name new directors.
Takase said yesterday she had applied for the directorship. She declined to comment on whether she thought her position on the judicial candidates’ names was a factor in the governor’s decision.
"Whenever a new administration comes in, they will generally appoint a new director," she said.
She said she asked for an extension so she could remain on the job until March 18.
Abercrombie refused to release the names of the judicial candidates sent to him by the Judicial Selection Commission when he picked Sabrina McKenna as an associate justice on the Hawaii Supreme Court. McKenna was sworn in Thursday.
The appointment was the first of many that the governor is expected to make in his four-year term.
His refusal departed from Lingle’s practice of releasing the names and seeking comments from the public on the applicants before she made her appointments.
The refusal also drew criticism from open-government advocates who contend the names should be public to make the selection process more transparent.
But some in the legal community agree with Abercrombie, who said the disclosure would discourage potential applicants from applying.
After Abercrombie refused to release the names, Takase responded to a Star-Advertiser request for her opinion by writing a letter citing a 2003 opinion by her office. The opinion said a governor could withhold the names until the Senate confirms the appointment to avoid political interference in the process.
But once the Senate confirms the appointment, the reason for withholding the names "would end," she wrote.
In an interview, Takase said that under the open-records law, the governor would have to release the names after the Senate confirmation.
Abercrombie, however, stood by his earlier position.
On Thursday the Abercrombie administration officially denied a request by the Star-Advertiser for the names under the open-records law. The request was submitted to the Governor’s Office the day of McKenna’s Senate confirmation.
"The governor’s obligation to appoint judges to the Supreme Court is a legitimate government function," it said. "This function could be frustrated by the chilling effect of potential nominees knowing that his or her application may be disclosed."