Senate rejects Lingle choice
Some say that Judge Randal Lee is a victim of political payback
STORY SUMMARY »
A veteran deputy city prosecutor who investigated Democratic political donations to former Mayor Jeremy Harris and his administration has failed to win a nomination to the state Intermediate Court of Appeals.
GOP supporters said Circuit Judge Randal Lee was unfairly singled out in a political attack. Democrats, in nixing the nomination 16-9, said Lee did not have the experience for the appellate court and that Gov. Linda Lingle has named too many prosecutors to the bench.
Lee was confirmed to the Circuit Court bench two years ago, but Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Judiciary Committee chairman, said Lee was not ready for appellate court duty.
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STAR-BULLETIN / APRIL 2005
Randal Lee was sworn in as a Circuit Court judge in 2005, but yesterday failed to win confirmation to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
Circuit Judge Randal Lee failed to win confirmation yesterday to the Intermediate Court of Appeals because state senators are concerned that too many prosecutors are being appointed to the bench, according to Gov. Linda Lingle, who nominated Lee.
The 23-year veteran deputy prosecutor was rejected for the appellate court in a 16-9 vote.
Saying no to Lee
Here's the list of 16 Democratic senators who voted against the confirmation of Circuit Judge Randal Lee to the Intermediate Court of Appeals:
» Roz Baker
» Suzanne Chun Oakland
» J. Kalani English
» Carol Fukunaga
» Colleen Hanabusa
» Clayton Hee
» Gary Hooser
» David Ige
» Les Ihara
» Lorraine Inouye
» Donna Mercado Kim
» Russell Kokubun
» Clarence Nishihara
» Norman Sakamoto
» Brian Taniguchi
» Jill Tokuda
"It is clear that the majority party in the Senate doesn't want people with a prosecutor's background to be on the court," Lingle said after watching Lee's nomination fail. "It is a real sad day when someone of such character ... can't get confirmed."
The nomination had been forwarded by the Senate Judiciary Committee with a weak recommendation foreshadowing the Democrats' concerns. All four Democrats on the committee had voted for Lee in committee "with reservations."
Lee said more than 80 percent of the lawyers who sent in testimony were supporting him, but that he "has faith in the system" and would return to his position as a circuit judge.
In a floor speech yesterday, Sen. Brian Taniguchi, Judiciary Committee chairman, said the Hawaii Bar Association board was split on a recommendation, with half saying he was not qualified.
In an interview later, Taniguchi said he had talked to Lingle about sending down so many prosecutors as judicial nominations.
"I think she should look for more diversity," Taniguchi said in an interview.
But Lingle said she would continue to nominate attorneys with a law enforcement or prosecutor's background because she says the voters demand it.
"I ran on a platform that I would bring in people who believe that victims' rights are more important than criminals' rights. Those senators that opposed him are out of step with their constituents. It is very sad for the people."
Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, who watched the vote, said afterward that state public defenders routinely are nominated and confirmed as judges.
"Every public defender, except for the first one (attorney Brook Hart), has been elevated to the bench," he said.
Lingle's attempt to appoint more prosecutors to judgeships "is a legitimate balance."
Taniguchi (D, Manoa) said Lee had only two years of experience as a circuit judge and that the appellate court needs more veteran judges.
Lingle disagreed, noting that last year the Senate confirmed Mark Recktenwald as chief judge of the Intermediate Court although he had no judicial experience.
Senate Republicans said Lee was being punished for his work as the prosecutor who handled the investigations into City Hall corruption during the term of Mayor Jeremy Harris, who was a Democrat.
"This is another incident undermining the integrity of this institution," said Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua-Waimanalo). "Vote your conscience. Do you have a conscience?"
Norman Nagamine, president of Nagamine Okawa Engineers, sent the senators a letter Saturday urging that Lee not be confirmed because of his actions as a prosecutor.
In 2004, Nagamine and his partner, Dwight Okawa, were arrested on suspicion of money laundering, illegal ownership of a business and making political donations under false names. But charges weren't filed because of insufficient evidence.