HONOLULU (AP) — Gov. Linda Lingle on Thursday nominated Intermediate Court of Appeals Judge Katherine Leonard to head the Hawaii Supreme Court, calling it the most important appointment of her nearly eight-year tenure.
The 50-year-old Leonard is in line to become Hawaii's first female chief justice and the first graduate of the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law to sit on the high court.
The appointment still must be approved by the state Senate, which will consider it during a special session next month.
Leonard "has all the qualities necessary to make a great chief justice — steadfast character, a strong intellect, great writing skills and a true commitment to the rule of law," Lingle said at a state Capitol news conference with Leonard, her husband and son alongside.
Asked how she felt about the prospect of being the first woman to lead the high court, Leonard answered judiciously.
"It's a great honor to be the first chief justice who is a woman in this state. I'm very pleased," she said.
If approved by the Senate, Leonard would succeed Ronald Moon, who by law must resign as chief justice by Sept. 4, when he turns 70. The Senate scheduled next month's two-day special session to consider nominations to several judicial posts.
The Republican governor chose Leonard from a list of six recommendations forwarded to her by the state Judicial Selection Commission. Others on the list were Supreme Court Associate Justice Mark Recktenwald; Craig Nakamura, chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals; appellate Judge Daniel Foley; and Circuit Judges Bert Ayabe and Richard Pollack.
Leonard was chosen by Lingle to sit on the Intermediate Court of Appeals in November 2007. The Senate confirmed her unanimously. Before that, Leonard was a partner at Carlsmith Ball LLP, where she focused on commercial, trust and environmental litigation.
She edited the law review while attending the Richardson law school, and graduated in 1991.
Leonard said she handled 400 cases while on the intermediate court, half of them criminal appeals, and wrote about 150 of the rulings.
"I have great respect for upholding the rule of law," Leonard said. "I would describe myself as a modest and moderate judge."
Lingle said the historic nature of Leonard's appointment was only one of the factors she considered.
"Of course, being (Hawaii's) first woman governor, I thought about the fact that she would be the first woman chief justice," the governor said. "But the top thing I considered was her intellectual ability, her record, her respect for the rule of law, her character — and that's shown through her career."
Attempts to reach Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Taniguchi, D-Moiliili-Manoa, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, D-Nanakuli-Makua, for comment were not immediately successful.
Lingle, who leaves office in December after two terms, has named three of the high court's five justices, five of six intermediate appeals court judges, and 17 of the state's 33 circuit judges.
Leonard is married to Ian Sandison, and they have one son and two stepchildren.