Too Many Doubts About Leonard

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - August 11, 2010
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Editor’s note: Last Friday the full Senate voted 14-8 to reject Katherine Leonard’s nomination by Gov. Lingle to become the next state chief justice.

I sided with various lawyers and the Hawaii State Bar Association having reservations about Katherine Leonard as chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

It’s certainly not a gender or race issue. It’s about her lack of administrative and criminal-law experience and making it to the Intermediate Court of Appeals as a second choice when Gov. Lingle’s first choice was thwarted.

You have to wonder why Lingle picked Leonard over top-flight GOP associate justice Mark Rechtenwald or top-flight Democrat associate justice James Duffy.

Want a woman? Why not Paula Nakayama, already on the high court since 1993?

Associate justice Leonard?


But the critical chief justice post should not be one you toss like a bone to the dogs of diversity.

three star

My view of the perfect legal world is that picks for our two highest courts, Intermediate Appeals and Supreme, should come from those with lower court judicial records. That’s so we pick people of known temperament and a trail of decisions in civil and criminal cases on which to judge their judging.

I understand the argument that sometimes you’re just looking for a great legal mind. But that’s a very subjective opinion. There’s nothing like a record at the Circuit Court level to make a candidate’s qualifications crystal clear.

I’m one of those not very comfortable with Elena Kagan’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court because she has no judicial experience. She’s been the U.S. Solicitor General and is a former law school dean. No paper trail when it comes to judging and applying law to changing social conditions.

I wouldn’t want to say you must have been a lower court judge before you’re seated at a higher court. But I’d sure want to make that a top consideration.

And I’d never want anyone rated unqualified by either the state or national bar associations.

In the Katherine Leonard case, it was about an unqualified rating and going straight from business lawyer with a white-shoe firm to the second highest court in our state and then being put in to run the third branch of our government, appoint some other judges and put a person on the Judicial Selection Commission.

That’s one helluva step up on short judicial service!

Much of the whole business is political, of course. Governors and senators prefer judges of their own parties. The sense is that Democrats may be more liberal and Republicans more conservative in their decisions.

Lastly, this Leonard debate would never have happened if we’d never approved that ghastly amendment retiring judges at age 70. CJ Ronald Moon is turning 70. Seventy is when most of us are just building up a good head of intellectual steam.

Or, in my case, I like to think it’s happening at 74.

You may disagree.

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