leaving top court
The isle Supreme CourtBy Debra Barayuga and
justice will be a partner in a
Honolulu law firm
Gregg K. Kakesako
Associate Justice Robert G. Klein is leaving Hawaii's high court at the end of the month, giving Gov. Ben Cayetano the opportunity to make his first appointment to the five-member state Supreme Court.
Klein, 52, will retire with still two more years remaining in his 10-year term as an associate justice, saying he's ready for a new challenge.
He will be a partner in the Honolulu law firm of McCorriston Miho Miller Mukai, beginning Feb. 1, saying he plans to continue advocating for issues close to his heart, such as native Hawaiian rights.
"I'm looking forward to a change, a chance to be an advocate" rather than the adjudicator he's been for the past 21 years, Klein said.
Klein, the only part-Hawaiian on the high court, is most proud of decisions he's authored that involve the Hawaiian community, including expanding the rights of native Hawaiians, allowing them to go on private property under certain circumstances for traditional gathering, religious and cultural practices.
He said he has no regrets leaving the bench, where he has been involved in almost every type of legal matter. Klein was paid $97,000 a year.
William McCorriston called Klein's decision to join his law firm an "unmatched opportunity" that comes along only once in a professional lifetime.
"There's just never someone like Justice Klein coming into practice with 20 years experience on the bench, (the) author of every important legal decision and a relatively young man, who can offer our clients in the firm a wealth of knowledge from a unique perspective of being on the courts for 20 years," McCorriston said today.
Klein will work in the firm's litigation and business section, assisting clients in arbitration and other areas of law.
The 10-year-old private firm handles real estate transactions involving hotels and resort developments, and specializes in international business transactions.
Klein said he is leaving Hawaii's high court in very capable hands and with the well-wishes of his judicial colleagues. "I admire all my colleagues and their dedication to the court system," he said. "It's really been my pleasure working with them over the last eight years."
Cayetano said today he is hoping the Judicial Selection Commission will complete the screening process for Klein's replacement before May, giving him time to submit a nominee to the Senate for confirmation before it adjourns for the year.
The 2000 Legislature convenes tomorrow and ends in May.
"Judge Klein was a very good judge," Cayetano told reporters. "He was a very sincere and dedicated Supreme Court justice."
The governor said that, as an attorney, he tried cases before Klein and that he was always impressed with his "judicial temperament, the way he handled his court and his knowledge."
"It's going to be a loss since he was a very forward-thinking justice," Cayetano said, adding that replacing him will be a challenge.
All five members of the state Supreme Court were appointed by Cayetano's predecessor, John Waihee. The other members are Chief Justice Ronald Moon and associate justices Steven Levinson, Paula Nakayama and Mario Ramil. Their terms expire after Cayetano leaves office.
Klein, a 1965 Punahou School graduate, had been appointed by President Clinton to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1994, but withdrew his name after the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate refused to confirm him. His name also has been mentioned as a Campbell Estate trustee.
Two years ago, he was the only member of the high court not to give up the job of picking trustees for Bishop Estate, now known as Kamehameha Schools.
Klein has been in government service for the past 28 years, starting in 1972 when he was appointed law clerk for Chief Justice William Richardson after graduating from the University of Oregon Law School. He graduated from Stanford University.