Hawaii State Bar: Leonard, Tootoo unqualified

Hawaii State Bar: Leonard, Tootoo unqualified
Judge Katherine Leonard with Governor Linda Lingle
Judge Katherine Leonard with Governor Linda Lingle
Judge Faauuga Tootoo
Judge Faauuga Tootoo
Hugh Jones
Hugh Jones
Senator Sam Slom
Senator Sam Slom
Attorney General Mark Bennett
Attorney General Mark Bennett

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (Hawaii NewsNow) – There's high drama in Hawaii's legal community.

The Hawaii State Bar Association (HSBA) is trying to block two judges with one word - 'unqualified'.

That's what the group of lawyers is labeling Chief Justice nominee Katherine Leonard and Circuit Court nominee Faauuga Tootoo.

But the group won't explain why.

HSBA says it's a privacy issue.

That put its president under fire on Monday, from the nominees supporters.

Whether or not the bar's recommendation will hold any weight, Judge Leonard and Judge Tootoo, both nominated by Governor Lingle, will never get to find out the reasons behind the 'no' vote.

Surrounded by supporters, Judge Tootoo had a difficult time with the secrecy.

"That is the disappointing part of this process," he said.

At his Senate confirmation hearing for Circuit Court Judge, Tootoo learned, the HSBA has voted him unqualified for the promotion, and can't reveal why.

"Our policy is that the vote is confidential," said Hugh Jones, HSBA President.

"The vote certainly has nothing to do with whether Judge Tootoo is a nice person, good-hearted person, a good leader in this community," Jones added.

"In my court, when I find a person guilty, they deserve an explanation and that's all anybody can ask for but I respect the Bar's decision," said Tootoo.

The HSBA did release its criteria for nominees, including integrity, legal knowledge, professional experience, and judicial temperament.

Somewhere on the list, the HSBA also finds Judge Leonard lacking.

Like Judge Tootoo, the Chief Justice nominee got a negative rating.

This comes just days after attorney, Eric Seitz, wrote a letter to the state bar calling her 'ill equipped and unqualified' to lead Hawaii's Supreme Court.

"I have overheard enormous numbers of things about her, that she is extremely difficult to communicate with, extremely condescending," said Seitz last Tuesday.

Leonard is currently a State Appellate Court Judge.

Governor Lingle nominated her to replace Chief Justice Ronald Moon.

If appointed, Leonard would become the first female to hold the post in Hawaii's history.

Critics have said Leonard doesn't have enough administrative experience.

"I have no qualms about her administrative experience. We've had previous Chief Justices who have not had administrative experience," said Republican Senator Sam Slom.

"For example, when Chief Justice Moon was nominated 17 years ago, he had a similar background," said Attorney General, Mark Bennett.

In a statement, Governor Lingle said the negative ratings "are outrageous and are clearly not based on the legal experience and qualifications of these two highly qualified nominees...the State Bar Association's review process was unfair, flawed, and conducted under a veil of secrecy, with no accountability to the public."

"They come in, they say that somebody is unqualified, and they don't give any reasons for it, and it's just basically an unfair process," said Bennett.

But that's how it's been the last 15 to 20 years, according to Slom.

"The Legislature and the Senate has questioned it before, the Attorney General has questioned it before," he said.

Slom sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He says they do rely on the HSBA for a recommendation.

"But I am going to make a prediction that we are going to approve both of them," said Slom.

Judge Leonard's confirmation hearing is Tuesday morning.

The Senate Committee will make its final recommendation for all nominees on Thursday.

The full Senate vote is set for Friday.

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