Hawaii Bar Association to reconsider privacy policy

Hugh Jones
Hugh Jones
Brian Taniguchi
Brian Taniguchi
Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara
Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Tuesday's confirmation hearing of Judge Katherine Leonard brought a surprising admission, not from the Chief Justice nominee, but from the head of the Hawaii State Bar Association (HSBA), which has been criticized for not explaining its criticism of judges.

The HSBA still won't say why it voted against Judge Leonard and Circuit Court nominee, Judge Faauuga To'oto'o. But the group of lawyers plans to re-think its privacy policy.

Day two on the hot seat and HSBA President, Hugh Jones, agreed to meet his critics half-way.

"As president of this organization, I will go back to the Board when this process is done and re-examine the process we're following," said Jones.

It's a process that involves secrecy.

At the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearing for Judge Leonard, the HSBA voted her unqualified for the promotion but can't say why.

The privacy policy, in place since 1990, is designed to protect lawyers from possible retaliation.

"Because people need to feel free to speak with all candor about the nominee," said Jones.

"They need to have kind of a safe haven place where attorneys can come and are free to say stuff that may be critical of a judge," said Democrat Senator Brian Taniguchi, Judiciary Committee chair.

Though the HSBA's reasons are hidden, at least four people were quick to point out why they don't think Leonard can lead the state's highest court.

Much of the criticism points to Leonard's administrative experience.

"She has not been a litigator, not a trial attorney, she has not been a trial judge, ever," said Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara, who testified against Leonard.

"Perhaps in a quieter and different way than some, I really believe I have demonstrated since the first day of law school my leadership, my administrative skills consistently," said Leonard.

"She has been successful. She has been ethical. She has all the skills necessary to be a great Chief Justice," said Mark Bennett, Attorney General.

Of the 100 people who testified, a majority sided with Leonard.

The full Senate will vote on her confirmation this Friday.

Leonard is an Intermediate Court of Appeals Associate (ICA) Judge.

"Out of the six nominees, we have two sitting Justices on the Supreme Court...who are both bypassed by someone who's only been on the court for 2 and a half years, so it does seem a little extraordinary," said Taniguchi.

If appointed, Judge Leonard would become Hawaii's first female Chief Justice.

She'd serve a ten-year term, and be in charge of 1800 employees.

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