Nominees to bench should fully disclose
State Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee has warned nominees to judgeship to disclose their past problems.
SANCTIMONIOUS and off-the-mark as he might be, Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee is right in warning judicial nominees
to disclose their past problems in the confirmation process. Failure to make such disclosures should result in extra scrutiny before candidates are confirmed.
In 1988, a private attorney nominated for the Circuit Court bench testified to the Judiciary Committee that he had never been cited for violating federal rules regarding attorney conduct. In fact, the nominee had been cited as such by a federal judge, even though the case in which it occurred had not completed the appeals process.
When the Star-Bulletin documented that the nominee had indeed been cited, Hee, the committee chairman then as he is again now, lashed out at the reporter for having been "set up" to report it. When the reporter confronted Hee about the accusation, Hee admitted he had no knowledge of how the reporter had learned of the citation. The nominee was confirmed, with Hee's avid support.
Hee now appears to appreciate the importance of full disclosure, accusing Maui attorney Keith Tanaka, district judge nominee, of being less than candid about criticism by the state Intermediate Court of Appeals. Hee said the appeals court, in reversing a case in which Tanaka had been victorious at trial, criticized him "for using poor judgment, not getting waivers from his clients and representing multiple clients."
Jeff Portnoy, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, said Tanaka had disclosed the appeals court's reversal in a questionnaire he had filled out for the bar association, which is part of the confirmation case. "In this case, full disclosure was made to the bar association," Portnoy told the Star-Bulletin's Richard Borreca. He said the case involved "a very complicated scenario."
Portnoy said Tanaka "came very highly recommended by lawyers and judges." Indeed, Tanaka's nomination was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, including Hee, on Friday.
Hee was the only senator who voted in 2005 against the confirmation of Rick Bissen, a former deputy attorney general, to Maui Circuit Court, even though senators criticized him for failing to disclose an unfavorable court ruling that criticized his legal performance.
Hee says he wants people "to understand that notice has been given and the expectation has been established" that disclosure of past adversity is expected of judicial nominees. That policy can expect to continue for as long as Hee is judiciary chairman and a Republican resides in Washington Place.