Full disclosure expected of judicial nominees
Certain appointments spark the comments from Sen. Clayton Hee
Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee is warning judicial nominees: Tell the Judicial Selection Commission about past problems or face confirmation fights.
"I want people to understand that notice has been given and the expectation has been established," said Hee, whose committee holds confirmation hearings on judges.
What triggered Hee's comments are a 2005 judicial appointment and a current one: Maui attorney Keith Tanaka as a Maui District Court judge. Tanaka is expected to easily win Senate confirmation, and Hee says he will vote for him.
"The nominee did not disclose the fact that he was criticized by the Intermediate Court of Appeals," Hee wrote in a committee report.
Hee said Tanaka was reversed in a court case, and "in remanding the case back down to the court for trial, he was criticized for using poor judgment, not getting waivers from his clients and representing multiple clients."
Hee went on to say that while the committee thought Tanaka had the qualifications for District Court, "it may not have reached the same conclusion if the nomination were to a higher court."
Tanaka, 54, a private attorney and former public defender, did not return Star-Bulletin calls.
He was highly praised during his confirmation hearing by members of the Maui legal community.
"He was a public defender and worked in the District Court, the people's court. Had he disclosed it, it would not have mattered," Hee said yesterday in an interview.
"The fact that he was reversed didn't outweigh the fact that his entire career has been made on representing people who can't afford counsel," Hee said.
Jeff Portnoy, Hawaii Bar Association president, said Tanaka had disclosed his appellate court reversal in the questionnaire he had filed with the bar association. "It was a very complicated scenario, but Mr. Tanaka came very highly recommended by lawyers and judges.
"In this case, full disclosure was made to the bar association," Portnoy said.
In 2005, Hee was the only senator who voted against the confirmation of Rick Bissen, who was a deputy attorney general nominated to Maui Circuit Court.
Bissen had been questioned over two days and sharply criticized by senators for failing to disclose an unfavorable court ruling that criticized his legal performance. Bissen was eventually confirmed.
Hee, however, said he wants all nominees to understand his policy.
"We want to give notice that full disclosure is what we expect. If necessary, we will subpoena the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for any records," Hee said.