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Hawaii Supreme Court nominee Todd Eddins heads to full Senate for confirmation

The nomination of Circuit Court Judge Todd W. Eddins to the Hawaii Supreme Court is scheduled for a full Senate confirmation vote this morning.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted to forward his name to the Senate floor, along with the appointment of Deputy Public Defender Stephanie Char to the Kauai Family Court bench. The seven-member committee’s vote on Eddins’ nomination included two votes “with reservations.” Char received unequivocal support.

It was not immediately clear why state Sens. Mike Gabbard (D, Makakilo-Kapolei) and Kurt Fevella (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) voted to forward Eddins’ nomination with reservations. Fevella did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Gabbard could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

During Monday’s committee hearing, Fevella was among several committee members who had questions about Eddins’ handling of a 2019 plea agreement in a child sex abuse case that resulted in probation and a fine for the defendant.

The victim’s mother — Maria Roth-Tijerna — earlier told the committee that the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office forced her into agreeing to the terms of the plea agreement that called for probation and a fine for defendant Todd Bruggman — a topic that dominated much of Eddins’ nearly three-hour hearing.

A jury had been empanelled in the case and the trial had begun in February 2019 when Eddins was informed that a plea agreement had been reached. Eddins was bound to follow the agreement and he told the committee he had no reason to believe the mother had not given her consent.

In April 2019, the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office issued the following statement:

“The prosecutor’s office met with the victim’s mother several times before trial and during trial. She was aware of all the options. Trial began in February. During trial, to spare her daughter the trauma of having to testify, the victim’s mother agreed to a plea agreement. That agreement was accepted by the court in February. Today the defendant was sentenced in accordance with that agreement.”

During Wednesday’s committee hearing, state Sen. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, characterized Eddins’ Monday hearing as “long and robust.”

If confirmed today, Eddins will serve as one of four associate Supreme Court justices, in addition to Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald. Eddins would serve a 10-year term.

Last month Gov. David Ige nominated Eddins to replace associate Justice Richard Pollack, who retired in July after reaching the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70.

In announcing his nomination of Eddins to Hawaii’s highest court, Ige said at a Capitol press conference last month that some Supreme Court nominations have been controversial but “I am confident this one won’t be.”

Ige concluded his October remarks by saying, “I really look forward to the Senate confirmation process.”

At the time, Ige said that Eddins’ legal background gives him “a breadth of experience,” while calling the nominee “just a regular guy.”

Eddins graduated from Hawaii Baptist Academy and then the College of William & Mary in Virginia. As a student at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii, he served as executive editor of the UH Law Review, and later clerked for the late Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Yoshimi Hayashi.

Eddins also served on the Moiliili-McCully Neighborhood Board and coached troubled youths in sports and during mock trials at the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in Kailua, Ige said.

He was one of four names presented to Ige by the Judicial Selection Commission, a process that included the opportunity for anonymous comments to the governor.

“Judge Eddins has the respect of his peers,” Ige said during his October press conference.

Eddins has been a judge since 2017 after working as a public defender and an attorney in private practice.

As a defense attorney in private practice, Eddins and fellow attorney Richard Sing in 2016 successfully defended then-Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi on eight counts related to 15 transactions that Kenoi charged to his county-issued purchasing card from 2011 to 2014.

The full Senate today also will consider Recktenwald’s appointment of Char as a judge in the District Family Court of the 5th Circuit, which includes Kauai and Niihau.

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