Sources: Wilson fails to properly prepare for court, mistreats staff

Published: Mar. 13, 2014 at 10:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The State Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a second hearing on Circuit Court Judge Michael Wilson's nomination to the State Supreme Court Saturday morning, as Hawaii News Now has discovered more reasons why lawyers have told the Hawaii Bar Association and some state senators Wilson is unqualified for the high court.

The Hawaii State Bar Association said Wilson, a state judge since 2000, is "unqualified" for the Supreme Court because of  "… work ethic concerns, lack of professionalism in the workplace, questions concerning the propriety of conduct toward women in professional contexts, and the ability to serve at the level of a Supreme Court Justice."  Following its rules to protect the anonymity of its members, the association is not releasing more details other than to say the rating was based on "negative comments" from an undisclosed number of attorneys.

At the request of all eight women members of the State Senate, Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee is asking Wilson to turn over personnel records, including his performance reviews, to the committee, which will call him to appear before a second hearing Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Judiciary hearing room 016 at the State Capitol.

"Given the concern regarding characteristics including the treatment of women, we're making a statement that that's a serious matter and it warrants further investigation," said State Sen. Laura Thielen, an attorney and the former president of Hawaii Women Lawyers.

If no one comes forward with specific allegations at Saturday's hearing, Hee said, "It would be very difficult, to change, in my opinion, the will of the committee at this time, based on innuendo, allegations, insinuations and rumor."

Last Thursday, the Judiciary committee unanimously passed Wilson's nomination out for a full Senate vote following a more than four-hour hearing.

But other senators said they understand why young lawyers, particularly women, are afraid to come forward in public, so they're asking for the potential to meet in secret.

"I felt that we definitely needed a commitment to get an executive session if it warrants it, because people are fearful, especially if they are female," said State Sen. Malama Solomon, a member of the Judiciary Committee.

"The nominee is a sitting judge and the reality is whether he's confirmed or not, he's going to remain on the bench, and so a number of attorneys who are going to be practicing in front of him are going to have other concerns," said Thielen, referring to the concern attorneys have about retaliation for coming forward and accusing Wilson of not being qualified for the high court.

In response to those concerns, Hee said, "I realize how important it is and the kinds of chances people take by coming forward.  Nonetheless, this committee doesn't engage in trolling and it certainly will not lead a witch hunt."

State Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, who is the second female member and vice chair of the Judiciary Committee, along with Solomon, also signed the letter to Hee saying the bar association's testimony "raises questions that warrant further inquiry by the Senate."

The other members of the panel are Hee, and State Sens. Mike Gabbard, Brickwood Galuteria, Les Ihara, Jr., and Sam Slom.

Thielen confirmed she's received calls from attorneys opposed to and supportive of Wilson's appointment to the high court.

Sources said attorneys have contacted several senators to complain that Wilson is lazy, and unlike other judges, does not read pre-sentence reports of defendants but instead has his staff summarize them in two- to three-page memos.  Most of those pre-sentence reports are not longer than 30 pages long, and contain important information for judges to weigh in sentencing defendants, such as whether they show remorse and their criminal background, people familiar with court proceedings said.

Lawyers have also told senators they've seen Wilson yell at his law clerks, make some of them cry and had some of them run personal errands such as picking up his lunch and laundry.

Sources said Wilson is from time to time late for his own morning court dates, keeping attorneys, witnesses and others waiting a half hour or longer.

During his nomination hearing Last Thursday, Wilson on two occasions declined to answer Hawaii News Now's questions about whether the Bar Association panel asked him about mistreating his Circuit Court law clerks.  Wilson said he would not comment further than what he had told senators.

Wilson did return a call made to his court chambers Thursday.

At least a half dozen attorneys submitted testimony critical of Wilson to the Hawaii State Bar Association, leading to the bar's "unqualified rating," sources said.

Hee said he received an inquiry from a woman Thursday morning who said she was wrongfully fired by Wilson when he headed the state Department of Land and Natural Resources before he was appointed to the bench in 2000.  The woman is expected to testify at the Saturday hearing, Hee said, and she claimed she dealt with a hostile work environment.

"He (Wilson) deserves the opportunity to respond to this as well.  I mean, we should be listening to him and he has the right to respond to it," said Thielen. "We need to be weighing things very carefully because this is the reputation and character of an individual who has a lot of positive attributes in our community."

The full Senate must vote on Wilson's nomination by early next week. In order for Wilson's nomination to be approved, 13 of 25 senators must vote in his favor.

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