Court nominee faces doubts
The unanimous vote for Judge Randal Lee includes four cast "with reservations"
A Senate panel unanimously recommended that Oahu Circuit Judge Randal K.O. Lee fill a vacancy on the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.
The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor voted 6-0 yesterday in favor of Lee's nomination.
However, four of the "yes" votes, including those of committee Chairman Brian Taniguchi and Vice Chairman Clayton Hee, were cast "with reservations," indicating that some members still have some concern over the nomination.
The committee heard about four hours of testimony both for and against Lee, a former deputy city prosecutor who is best known for taking on high-profile elected officials accused of campaign spending violations.
"I think the process works," Lee said after the confirmation hearing. "If everyone has their say in terms of their opinion about the nomination, then that's the way it should work.
"It's important that people participate in the process."
The nomination is expected to go to the Senate floor early next week for a vote by the full chamber. Lee was unanimously approved by the full Senate when his nomination to the Circuit Court went before the chamber in 2005.
"You never assume things," Lee said of the upcoming vote. "You just continue working hard."
The committee received about 90 submissions of written testimony in support of Lee from colleagues, prominent local attorneys, members of Gov. Linda Lingle's Cabinet, private citizens and others.
Seven people who attended the hearing -- all attorneys -- testified against Lee, saying they did not feel he had enough experience as a civil litigator and also questioning some of his rulings and past practices.
A key concern focused on a 1991 case prosecuted by Lee that was overturned by the Supreme Court. The high court had cited Lee's failure to hand over thousands of pages of documents in the case as a reason for overturning the case, saying the action denied the defendant of receiving a fair trial.
That case had come up in 2005, and lawmakers lauded Lee at that time for voluntarily disclosing the ruling.
Lawmakers also questioned the Hawaii State Bar Association yesterday on its testimony, which neither supported nor rejected Lee's nomination.
The vote of the association's board of directors was equally split, with eight members deeming Lee not qualified for the job and eight others voting him as qualified or better.
Bar Association President Jeffrey Portnoy said he could not recall any vote during his two-year tenure that was split as such.
During Lee's 2005 confirmation, he was rated highly qualified.
Portnoy noted that the board has experienced almost complete turnover since then, adding that it is not unusual for a candidate to be deemed qualified for one position but not qualified for another, noting that judgeships at different levels require varying degrees of skill sets.
Hee (D, Kahuku-Kaneohe) said he was supporting Lee's nomination with reservations largely because of the bar association's vote.
"It's clear to me that regardless of whatever their reason was, it was compelling enough that 50 percent of those that cast votes voted no," Hee said.
Although he acknowledged the concerns over Lee's nomination, Taniguchi (D, Manoa) said he wanted to see it proceed to a floor vote.
"For me the nominee has been forthcoming," he said. "He's answered all my questions, at least, to my satisfaction."
The other committee members voting with reservations were Sens. Russell Kokubun (D, Hilo-Naalehu) and Clarence Nishihara (D, Waipahu-Pearl City). Sens. Mike Gabbard (D, Kalealoa-Makakilo) and Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) voted a straight yes.