Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bissen confirmed
as Maui judge

New Maui Circuit Judge Richard Bissen said he was grateful to senators who approved his nomination to the bench by a 24-1 vote yesterday after about 90 minutes of debate on the Senate floor.

"I've probably learned more about sitting in judgment of a person by going through this process than I could ever learn in any judicial college," Bissen said after the vote. "I'll take that experience with me, too.

"I think they made good comments that, like I said, I will take to heart and try to apply."

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe), while seven other senators voted yes "with reservations."

During his hearing before the Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee last week, Bissen was faulted for not telling senators about an unfavorable court ruling that criticized his legal performance as prosecutor.

Bissen had said the Hawaii Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed a misconduct complaint against him, but cautioned him about his conduct. He noted that the adverse ruling was brought to the attention of the Judicial Selection Commission and the Hawaii State Bar Association.

Hee, the Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee vice chairman, said he was concerned that Bissen didn't bring up the adverse ruling because he believed the Senate would not find out about it.

Hee noted that senators learned of the case only because a lawyer stepped forward.

"No person is entitled to a seat on the Circuit Court. This is not a reward," Hee said. "If a nominee cannot clearly satisfy the Senate without any reservations that he or she meets all the criteria for confirmation, the people of Hawaii should not be asked to bear the risk of entrusting this individual with the reins of judicial power."

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa said she had serious concerns about Bissen's appointment, but supported him with reservations out of deference to her colleagues from Maui, all of whom spoke in strong support of his nomination.

"I have said from the beginning, this is not an issue so much about prosecutorial misconduct," said Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua). "For me, it has been an issue of disclosure."

Gov. Linda Lingle, who nominated Bissen, said she was pleased with the vote.

"It'll be great for the people of Maui and great for the criminal justice system," she said. "He was obviously very qualified."

Bissen, who was Maui prosecutor under Lingle, will serve a 10-year term.

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