High court nominee approved 23-1, but criticized for not being diligent, prepared

High court nominee approved 23-1, but criticized for not being diligent, prepared
Published: Mar. 17, 2014 at 10:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Senate overwhelmingly approved the nomination of Circuit Judge Michael Wilson to the state Supreme Court Monday, but not without detailed criticism from the lone senator who voted against him.

The Senate debate began with Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee (D- Kaneohe, Haaula, Laie) explaining why his committee unanimously approved Wilson's nomination after nearly ten hours of hearings over two days.

"Judge Michael D. Wilson has the experience, temperament, judiciousness and other competencies to serve as an associate justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court," Hee said on the Senate floor.

State Sen. Roz Baker (D-South and West Maui) was the only senator to vote against Wilson, saying she's spoken to people in the legal, law enforcement and women's communities who she respects who told her he's not up to the job.

"I heard that he created a hostile work environment, didn't treat subordinates with respect, some of whom were women, that the nominee didn't have the appropriate judicial demeanor or work ethic," Baker told her Senate colleagues. "He wasn't diligent, didn't come to his calendar on time or prepared and expected others to do his work."

Baker said when she met with Wilson to discuss allegations against him, he denied all the charges.

"Then he invited me to speak with folks in the community I greatly respect to vouch for his veracity.  I did. They didn't," Baker said. "There are simply too many questions surrounding this nominee.  I have to vote no."

Last week, Hawaii News Now reported similar allegations made by at least a half dozen attorneys to the Hawaii State Bar Association that resulted in the lawyers' group giving Wilson an "unqualified" rating.  The bar association said Wilson lacked the work ethic and professionalism to be a Supreme Court judge and raised questions about "his conduct toward women in professional contexts."

Hee repeated a complaint that many of Wilson's defenders have used during two hearings over the last two weeks: "No one came forward and that any claims regarding sexual harassment or discrimination remain unsubstantiated or unknown."

The final senate vote was 23 for and just one senator, Baker, against Wilson.

Two senators, Michelle Kidani and Laura Thielen, voted for Wilson with reservations.

Thielen said lawyers with negative information are afraid to come forward.

"Attorneys appearing in front of a judge are going to be very concerned that the comments that they make are going to be held against them by that judge later on and that would be practically impossible to prove," Thielen said.

State Sen. Sam Slom (R –Hawaii Kai, Kahala), a member of the judiciary committee, said, "What we saw over the last two weeks with hushed whispers and alleged confidentiality was a public colonoscopy of a judge who deserves better."

"The fact that an individual member of this Senate body may have talked to people, but that information was not available, even in a confidential manner, leaves us with allegations, innuendo and falsehood," Slom said.

After the vote, here's what Wilson said when Hawaii News Now asked him to respond to Baker's allegations that he created a hostile work environment as a judge: "I am grateful for the consideration that the Senate has given me and they have gracious and open and given me fairness and due process and an opportunity that I will always be thankful for.  So at this point, I'm off to lunch and thank you all."

"You don't want to respond to that kind of allegation?" Hawaii News Now reporter Keoki Kerr asked him.

"I'm just going to be taking off with my friend Alden here, for lunch.  Thank you," Wilson said, referring to his judicial clerk and saying he had to get back for court proceedings after lunch.

Wilson spoke with reporters for less than two minutes before leaving.

During Wilson's first nomination hearing March 6, Wilson twice declined to answer Hawaii News Now's questions about whether the Hawaii State Bar Association panel asked him about mistreating his law clerks and not being prepared for court.  He said at the time that he would not comment further than what he had told senators, who did not ask him detailed questions about how he treated his staff.

"I hope the nominee will take to heart the concerns raised and strive to do better.  I'd like nothing more than over the next few years to have my 'no' vote proven wrong," Baker said.

Several other women members of the Senate, including Thielen,  Kidani and Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said they, too, had received phone calls and emails from attorneys with complaints about Wilson.  They have said that those people, who identified themselves to the senators, asked to remain anonymous to the public and feared retaliation for speaking out against the nominee.

Lawyers with first-hand knowledge of Wilson's work at Circuit Court have complained to the Bar Association, senators and Hawaii News Now that he sometimes made staffers cry and had them run personal errands such as picking up his lunch and laundry.

Those lawyers, who refused to be named, said Wilson is lazy and is the only Circuit Court judge who has his law clerks write up two- to three-page summaries of pre-sentence reports that are no longer than 30 pages long.  The other judges read their own pre-sentence reports, attorneys said, getting to their chambers as early as 6 or 7 a.m., while Wilson often gets to court close to 8:30 a.m. start time and sometimes late for his own court dates, sources said.

More than 100 attorneys, judges and others testified in favor of Wilson during two public hearings, including Nancie Caraway, Gov. Neil Abercrombie's wife, former Gov. Ben Cayetano and his wife Vicky, and retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Jim Duffy.

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