Honolulu Lite


Sunday, December 1, 2002

Black muumuus can’t cover
up judicial silliness

A local attorney asked me why I bash judges. The answer, I guess, is because it's sooooooo easy. Actually, I don't "bash" judges, I let the judges bash themselves and simply report details of the self-bashingment (the editors are going to love THAT word).

Two recent events on the judicial front will make my point.

First, just because Hawaii Supreme Court justices wear snazzy black robes and can say "in ambiguis casibus semper presumitur pro rege" with little or no irony, doesn't mean they are above petty squabbles.

My attorney buddies from my old days covering the courts tell me that Supreme Court Justices Steven Levinson and Simeon Acoba, while sharing the same liberal political leanings, are involved in an ongoing personal spat.

The animosity spilled over into a Nov. 13 written ruling overturning a 1996 manslaughter conviction.

The majority opinion was written by Levinson. Despite Levinson's lengthy description of the facts of the case and the legal justification for overturning the trial court, Justice Acoba felt moved to write a concurring opinion in which he claimed that the majority actually had adopted his position on the matter. Levinson then added a footnote to the document saying that "Justice Acoba's assertion that the majority has adopted his position ... is puerile."

Puerile is a highfalutin word that simply means immature and infantile. In other words, Justice Levinson is calling Acoba a big baby.

You don't usually see high-court jurists calling each others big babies in public. You also don't see much personal name-calling in Supreme Court published rulings, especially in a case where a mother and daughter were killed with a shotgun and the alleged gunman may go free. I guess it's true that the black muumuu doesn't make the man.

OUR SECOND example of judicial embarrassment comes from Maui, where Wailuku Judge Joel August doesn't know a hate crime when he sees one. Hizzoner released four local men back on the streets after they attacked, robbed and threatened to rape a group of tourists because they were white.

The gang leader, 20-year-old Keoni Garso, told his buddies, "Let's go lick some haoles," and then attacked nine visitors in Whalers Village.

You merely have to substitute blacks, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos or Mexicans for the word "haoles" to see that this was truly a racially motivated hate crime. That alone should have caused the judge to give some jail time to these young men. Even without the crime's racial overtones, attacking visitors to the islands generally isn't considered a good way to promote tourism. (Come to Hawaii for Surf, Sunshine and Lickin's!)

The judge congratulated himself for not taking into consideration the concerns of the community in letting the attackers off with probation, community service and fines.

"I'm not going to allow that to influence the court one way or another," he said in an amazing display of puerile judicial temperament. And I mean puerile in the harshest sense of the word.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail

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