Appellate judge Lim founded volunteer legal services office
John S.W. Lim / 1951-2007
Judge John S.W. Lim, an associate judge on the Intermediate Court of Appeals, died yesterday.
Lim, 55, had served with the state Judiciary since 1993 as District Family Court judge, Circuit Court judge and presiding judge of the Adult Drug Court before his appointment to the appellate court in 1999.
"We are devastated by the loss of such a young, intelligent, hard-working and dedicated jurist," said Hawaii Chief Justice Ronald Moon in an announcement yesterday.
Lim gave notice last week of his intention to retire on July 1 because of illness. The cause of his death was not released by his family, said a court spokeswoman.
"His legacy is tremendous," said Moya Gray, executive director of Volunteer Legal Services of Hawaii. Lim was a founder and first director of the program, organized as Hawaii Lawyers Care, by which lawyers give free legal services to people unable to afford it.
"He created the initial program," said Gray. "Without his dedicated service, it wouldn't exist today. Thousands of people have been helped."
Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said, "When he was elevated to the appellate court, everybody felt it was clearly deserved. He had a superb intellect. I always appreciated his dry, clever sense of humor."
Lim aroused criticism for his 1999 sentencing of Kimberly Pada for the beating of her son, Reubyne Buentipo Jr., 4, who was left comatose. A jury found her guilty of attempted murder, but the judge reduced the verdict to attempted manslaughter after jurors expressed confusion over his jury instruction.
When former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano appointed Lim to the appeals court later the same year, he was unanimously confirmed by the state Senate after a hearing in which supporters said the flaw was in the law, not in Lim's decision.
Jeffrey Portnoy, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, remembered Lim as "a very courageous judge" for another controversial decision. Lim ruled in 1994 that the Honolulu Police Department must identify officers who had disciplinary action taken against them, information sought by the University of Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
"In a room filled with police officers, in a courthouse overrun by police and their families, despite hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the city and the police union, he ruled in favor of student journalists," said Portnoy, who represented the students. Lim's ruling was upheld by the Hawaii Supreme Court, but the Legislature passed a law to keep the files secret.
"He was a very smart, very courageous man," said Portnoy. "When he was nominated to the appellate court, many of us felt that it was a path that would lead to the Hawaii Supreme Court."
President Bill Clinton nominated Lim for the U.S. District Court in June 2000, but the Republican Senate allowed the appointment to languish without a hearing.
Lim graduated in 1983 from Stanford Law School. He was formerly general counsel for the Hawaii Economic Development Corp. and an associate attorney with Carlsmith Wichman Case Mukai & Ichiki.
His survivors include his wife, Evva, and sons Ethan and Evan.
Funeral arrangements are pending.