Supreme Court nominee questioned but no major new revelations
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
State Supreme Court nominee Michael Wilson faced more questions from senators about his conduct Saturday but no new revelations emerged during a Judiciary committee hearing that lasted more than five hours.
Several women state senators said lawyers have contacted them complaining about the conduct of Wilson, a Circuit Court judge since 2000, but none of the lawyers were willing to testify in public.
State Sen. Laura Thielen began asking one controversial question and was shouted down by the audience at the hearing, most of whom were Wilson supporters.
"Have you ever been spoken to by anyone about inappropriate looking at women's, parts of women's bodies as they appear in court," Thielen asked, prompting a loud negative audience reaction as State Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the judiciary committee said, "I think these questions way, way out of line."
The Hawaii State Bar Association said Wilson is "unqualified" to sit on the Supreme Court, because sources said at least six attorneys complained about him, leading the lawyers' association to question his work ethic, professionalism and his conduct toward women in the workplace.
"I am trying to take the information that's come to me to give you an opportunity to respond and so that you understand the nature of what at least some of us are hearing," said Thielen, and then she re-asked the question that had created a stir from Wilson supporters.
"Have you ever been counseled in your role as a judge for inappropriately looking at women's bodies as they appear in front of you?" Thielen asked.
"No," Wilson answered.
Thielen asked him several questions on behalf of herself and Maui State Sen. Roz Baker, who had heard from several lawyers who did not want to be identified and testify in public.
"Have you ever been spoken to our counseled by any judge regarding your treatment of women who appear before you or in the office?" Thielen asked.
Wilson answered: "No."
Thielen: "Have you ever been accused of threatening, verbally abusing or physically abusing a woman?"
Thielen: "Have you ever had a restraining order filed against you?"
Wilson: " No."
A former Wilson law clerk said she and other women who worked for Wilson never discussed being mistreated by him.
"I have never experienced any demeaning actions toward me and I've never had anyone else say this happened to me," said Jacquelyn Esser, who clerked for Wilson in 2009 and 2010 and is now a deputy public defender.
One former law clerk submitted written testimony that while not opposed to Wilson's nomination, raised questions about his work style. Stewart Yerton, a former Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter, clerked for Wilson in 2011 and is now an analyst at the State Auditor's office.
Yerton said Wilson "delegated considerable work to staff" and was the only Circuit Court judge to rely heavily on his clerks to write summaries of defendants' pre-sentence reports.
Other attorneys familiar with schedules and workloads at Honolulu Circuit Court said no other circuit judges have their clerks write summaries of the pre-sentence reports, which are, at most, 30-page summaries of summaries. Those attorneys, who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation, said Wilson often gets to work just before 8:30 a.m. court time, unlike other judges who arrive at 6 or 7 a.m. to read over reports and prepare for 15 to 20 court sentencings and other appearances they may deal with when they are not in trial.
"It's like getting someone to write a summary of a Cliff's Notes version of a book," said one attorney, who said the other judges read the entire pre-sentence reports.
"I don't think it's a commentary that the way he chose to use us, means that he's a bad judge, or because some other judge does something differently. It's just his individual way of running his court room," said former Wilson clerk Okie Amadi, who is now a deputy public defender and appears before Wilson several times a week. Amadi, who clerked for the judge from 2005 to 2006, testified in favor of Wilson's confirmation. Amadi said when Wilson has clerks summarize pre-sentence reports, it's not a "short cut" but a "teaching tool."
Nam Phan, another former clerk who worked for Wilson from 2007 to 2008, said, "From my personal experience, having worked there for a year, Monday through Friday, 8 to 5, I do not believe that he's lazy."
In written testimony, Yerton said Wilson used a tone with staff that was "not always conducive to a harmonious and productive working environment."
Lawyers at Circuit Court have told senators that Wilson had his law clerks run personal errands such as picking up lunch and laundry.
Yerton said that is true, describing it as "just part of the job. Given the tone I witnessed Judge Wilson use with staff, I chose not to see what would have happened if I had declined to pick up his lunch."
Wilson has had at least one dozen law clerks work for him since he took the bench. Three of them testified in his favor Saturday while a couple of others submitted written testimony supporting him earlier this month.
A number of long-time Wilson friends testified about his character, including Nancie Caraway, Gov. Neil Abercrombie's wife, who campaigned for Wilson in his unsuccessful run for Honolulu mayor in 1992.
"I have never, never known, in any personal instance or public instance that he was in any way disrespectful to women intellectually, physically, sexually, any other way," Caraway told senators. "I just wanted to give you my personal evaluation of him as an ethical person and as a very strong advocate for women's rights."
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano and his wife Vicky also testified in favor of Wilson.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Hee asked committee members if any of them wanted to change their votes from their unanimous approval of Wilson on March 6. None of them did.
"I think you have been maligned, you have been mistreated," Hee said to Wilson, who answered questions from senators for less than a half hour.
They did not ask him direct questions about his work ethic or whether he would turn over a summary of his judicial performance reviews.
Several attorneys who testified in favor of Wilson, including retired Supreme Court Justice Jim Duffy, said releasing even a summary of Wilson's job performance reviews would break Supreme Court rules, even if Wilson chose to release a summaries that had been given to him by the Judiciary.
When Hawaii News Now asked Wilson about whether he'd release his personnel file, he said, "It's best for me to just reserve my comments for the Senate. And I just have to say I'm very grateful to the committee. They've been very patient, very open and very kind."
Wilson released routine personnel information to the State Senate such as his vacation and trip records, Hee said, but not his job performance reviews that the Senate Women's Caucus requested.
The full State Senate is expected to vote on Wilson's nomination Monday.