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New appellate court nominee is veteran prosecutor, Hawaiian studies teacher

COURTESY GOV. DAVID IGE
                                If confirmed by the state Senate, Sonja McCullen would replace Associate Judge Derrick H.M. Chan who retired from the Intermediate Court of Appeals in October.
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COURTESY GOV. DAVID IGE

If confirmed by the state Senate, Sonja McCullen would replace Associate Judge Derrick H.M. Chan who retired from the Intermediate Court of Appeals in October.

Sonja McCullen, a Honolulu deputy prosecutor who previously taught social studies, Hawaiian studies and Hawaiian language at Waianae High School, has been nominated by Gov. David Ige to the Intermediate Court of Appeals following the failed nomination of Daniel Gluck to the ICA.

Gluck, executive director/general counsel of the state Ethics Commission and former legal director of the ACLU of Hawaii, by far had the least amount of experience before the ICA or the Hawaii Supreme Court than the five other people Ige originally considered, including McCullen.

Gluck withdrew his nomination amid calls for greater ethnic and gender representation on Hawaii’s highest courts after the state Senate Judiciary Committee failed to support his nomination last month. The full Senate later voted down Gluck’s nomination by a vote of 17-6.

In nominating McCullen to the ICA, Ige appears to have heard the concerns over Gluck’s nomination but did not address them in a statement today.

“Sonja McCullen possesses the legal skills, knowledge, and temperament to serve the people of Hawaii on the Intermediate Court of Appeals,” Ige said in a statement.

McCullen said through Ige’s office in a statement:

“It is with great honor and humility that I receive the appointment to the Intermediate Court of Appeals by Gov. Ige,” she said. “From the start of my career as a teacher at Waianae High School, to my ten plus years working in the Appellate Division of the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney of the City and County of Honolulu, I have dedicated myself to public service. If confirmed by the Senate, I will continue to work my hardest in this new role, with the same spirit of public service and aloha for Hawaii and all its people.”

For nearly five years at Waianae High School, Ige’s office said that McCullen created curriculum and taught classes perpetuating Hawaiian culture “for the next generation.”

McCullen earned a B.A. in liberal and Hawaiian studies from the University of Hawaii at Manoa along with a professional diploma in secondary education. She earned her law degree from UH’s William S. Richardson School of Law.

McCullen has worked for the Prosecutor’s office for nearly 11 years, most recently in the Appellate Division, and previously worked as an investigator for the Crime Victim Commission; as a staff attorney for the United Public Workers union; as a judicial education specialist for the State of Hawaii Judiciary, and law clerk for Associate Supreme Court Justice Paula A. Nakayama.

If confirmed by the state Senate, McCullen would replace Associate Judge Derrick H.M. Chan who retired from the Intermediate Court of Appeals in October.

Crystal Glendon, a Native Hawaiian trial attorney, said that she and other women in Hawaii’s legal community went out of their comfort levels in testifying against Gluck’s nomination.

Glendon said that Ige listened to the criticisms of Gluck’s nomination and applauded Ige’s selection of McCullen, whom she went to law school with at UH. Unlike Gluck, McCullen also has substantial experience working appeals cases.

“He 100% heard us,” Glendon said. “No. 1, she’s extremely and incredibly qualified. I would say it’s important that she brings a diverse perspective to the bench, and has a background doing appeals and having educated the Hawaiian population that I, as a Native Hawaiian practitioner and a Native Hawaiian, appreciate. She brings a wealth of information from her own personal experiences. I also believe she’ll be fair in applying the law.”

While Glendon felt uncomfortable testifying against a nominee to the ICA, Glendon said that Ige’s nomination of McCullen made it worthwhile.

“I’m glad that he heard us,” Glendon said. “I advocate for people who can’t advocate for themselves. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

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