EXCLUSIVE: Panel votes not to renew judge
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After ten years on the bench, Circuit Judge Randal Lee has told staffers that he won't be renewed for another term.
A clerk with the Judicial Selection Commission said no final decision has been made on Lee's retention but sources said the judge has already told court employees that his last day will be April 17. Lawyers said his future court dates are being rescheduled.
Some defense attorneys believe it's in retaliation for his criticisms of the Honolulu prosecutor's office and others.
"When you remove a judge because of a political decision or because of the politics affecting the selection process, you send a terrible message to the public," said attorney Myles Breiner.
"Politicizing the judiciary is wrong."
Added attorney Victor Bakke: "I would absolutely say politics is behind this because he's a competent judge. He knows the law and implements it fairly."
Sources said the move came several weeks after a deputy with the city prosecutor's office filed a formal complaint against Lee with the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Deputy Prosecutor Jake Delaplane filed the complaint after Lee dismissed all 414-counts in a gambling case he was in charge of. Lee also took him off the case against the operators of the sweepstakes gaming arcades, citing misconduct.
Attorneys said the misconduct ruling was justified.
"(Delaplane) testified under oath that he didn't even read the discovery in a 414-count indictment. He didn't even read his own reports," Breiner said.
Added Bakke: "For the commission to give any weight to Mr. Delaplane's complaint seems to me ridiculous because he obviously has a grudge against Judge Lee."
Prior to joining the Honolulu prosecutor's office, Delaplane previously served as deputy prosecutor for then-Kauai County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho.
Delaplane was Iseri-Carvalho's First Deputy when the office was sued in 2012 by former Councilman Tim Bynum for malicious prosecution. Bynum was prosecuted for criminal zoning violations but he said the charges were in retaliation for his criticisms of the prosecutor's office.
Bynum's suit was eventually settled out of court, with the county agreeing to pay him more than $250,000.
Also in 2012, Delaplane was part of the prosecution team that obtained a theft indictment against a Kauai county human resources manager, even though the grand jury was one vote short for an indictment. A Kauai Circuit judge threw out the case.
Attorney William McCorriston believes the judicial selection process needs to be overhauled.
"I feel Judge Lee has been unfairly targeted and this is a gross miscarriage of the judicial selection process," McCorriston said.
"If this is how the judicial selection process works, we gotta find a way to reform it."
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said in a statement:
"It is ludicrous to suggest that the prosecutor's office can compel the Judicial Selection Commission to appoint, or likewise choose not to retain, any judge," said spokesman Dave Koga.
"Anyone who says that this group is incapable of independent thought and action willfully impugns their integrity and should be ashamed.”
Hawaii News Now has asked for a copy of Delaplane's complaint but the prosecutor's office did not provide it.
Lee has been a Circuit Court judge since 2005. Prior to that, he worked in the city Prosecutor's office under Peter Carlisle where he headed the office's white-collar crime unit.
As a prosecutor, he helped convict former city housing official Michael Kahapea, who headed a scheme to steal $5.8 million from the city.
During the early 2000s, Lee also investigated illegal campaign donations to former Mayor Jeremy Harris' campaign. About 30 contractors pleaded no contest to criminal violations of the state campaign laws.
Lee is the second Oahu Circuit judge in a year not to be retained. The commission rejected Patrick Border's application for a second-ten year term last year over allegations of erratic behavior.
Both Lee and Border were nominated by former Gov. Linda Lingle.
Lee's detractors point to a December 2014 decision by the Intermediate Court of Appeals. That decision criticized the judge for not admonishing a city deputy prosecutor strong enough when the prosecutor made derogatory remarks about the Micronesian community in a murder case.
According to the ICA, Deputy Prosecutor Darrell Wong stated in his sentencing argument that the case involved "Micronesians who get inebriated on alcohol then become violent with their own family members."
Wong asked for a 20-year sentence for the murder conviction to send "a message to the Micronesian community" that such behavior "is not acceptable in the laws of the United States and the State of Hawaii," the ICA said.
Lee sentenced the defendant to 20 years in prison but said then that the sentence was not intended to send any message to the Micronesian community, the appeals court said. The ICA ruled that he should have taken have taken more definitive action against Wong's statements.
The ICA panel ordered a new sentencing.