EXCLUSIVE: Fired judge fires back
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A state judge who was rejected by the Judicial Selection Commission has fired back, saying the commission's proceedings were unfair.
In a March 21 letter obtained by Hawaii News Now, Circuit Judge Randal Lee alleged that commission members did not review his full record but relied heavily on a last-minute complaint by a city deputy prosecutor, whom he had removed from a case for misconduct.
In the letter, Lee said the commission told him that they voted not to retain him on March 12, then asked him to withdraw his petition for retention, which he declined.
"If I stood idly by and allow the type of 'star chamber' decisions to be made on the future of the judiciary, this would have a chilling effect on current judges sitting on the bench," Lee wrote.
"It sends the wrong message to future candidates for judicial office. More importantly, I would be compromising my integrity as a person."
Lee, who has served on the bench for ten years, is widely respected by criminal defense attorneys and has received good ratings from members of the Hawaii State Bar and former jurors.
State Rep. Sharon Har said the whole process lacked transparency and said she plans to introduced a resolution urging the commission to make its proceedings more open. She believes an investigation may also be needed.
"I think we could call for one and I think if the Judicial Selection Commission wants to hide under a veil of confidentiality, then again it begs the question, what are they hiding," said Har, (D)-Kapolei.
University of Hawaii law professor Randall Roth, said the "shroud of secrecy" surrounding the commission can erode the public's confidence in its decisions.
Roth was one of the five co-authors of the 1997 "Broken Trust" article that criticized the commission and the Judiciary for its cozy relationship with the Bishop Estate.
"It's an inherently political process. They have very powerful people pressuring them to get certain people on or off and sometimes people exerting that pressure have narrow vested interests," Roth said.
In his letter, Lee claimed that commission members Jim Bickerton and Patricia Park had an ax to grind because he ruled against Bickerton and Park's husband in separate civil cases.
Both Bickerton and Park's husband Arthur Park also testified against Lee in 2007 when he was being considered for a seat on the Intermediate Court of Appeals. His nomination was rejected by the state Senate.
In a memo to members of the Hawaii State Bar, Bickerton listed his opposition to Lee's ICA bid among his achievements in "working for better and independent judges."
Both Bickerton and Park have declined comment. But a source familiar with the proceedings said that Park recused herself in matters relating to Lee and that Bickerton was not the trial attorney for the civil case that Lee presided over. He only handled the appeal.
Civil rights attorney Daphne Barbee-Wooten believes the commission made the right decision, saying Lee had a bad track record when it came to civil rights cases.
"He did not know discrimination. He did not care to learn about discrimination law. I felt he was retaliatory," she said.
Lee's last day is April 21. Bickerton's and Park's terms on the commission end tomorrow.