Promote attorney to judge, panel told
Judicial experience should be considered, but it should not be the determining factor in deciding whether a nominee is qualified for the Intermediate Court of Appeals, some of the state's top lawyers told lawmakers.
Attorneys, family, friends and other supporters showed up at the Capitol yesterday urging a Senate panel to confirm private-sector attorney Katherine Grace Leonard to a seat on the appellate court.
Leonard was nominated by Gov. Linda Lingle after the Senate, during its special session last month, rejected the nomination of Oahu Circuit Judge Randal K.O. Lee for the appeals court.
"I think that my background and experience would be an asset to the (court)," Leonard, a partner in the firm Carlsmith Ball LLP, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. "I have spent my entire legal career as a civil litigator. What that means is that I have worked every aspect of a civil dispute.
"I have not been a judge -- I recognize that -- but I've spent my entire legal career in courtrooms, and I think that it is a valuable insight I will bring to the court."
The committee scheduled a vote for Monday, when the chamber comes back in another special session to take up Leonard's nomination.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Taniguchi said he did not know how his colleagues were leaning, adding that he also was unsure what his recommendation would be.
"I want to digest some of this," Taniguchi (D, Manoa) said after listening to about two hours of testimony, all in favor of Leonard's confirmation.
Some senators have publicly questioned whether Leonard's lack of judicial experience qualifies her to serve on the appeals court.
Taniguchi agreed with many attorneys who said trial experience should be a consideration but not the deciding factor.
Attorney General Mark Bennett and Jeffrey Portnoy, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, were among those who vehemently argued that judicial experience should not be the determining factor for senators.
"It should not become a litmus test," Portnoy said. "If it does, it will destroy our appellate judiciary."
He and Bennett listed numerous examples of judges at the appellate level who have served with distinction despite not having prior experience on the bench, including the five sitting members of the Intermediate Court of Appeals.
Bennett noted that all of the roughly 85 pieces of written testimony submitted to the committee were in support of Leonard.
"We're not close to the line here, we're not close to the bottom, we're not close to the middle -- this is one of the finest lawyers in the state of Hawaii," Bennett said. "The idea that her confirmation is even a question is something that is an enigma to every single practicing lawyer in this room."
Leonard is nominated for a post that has been vacant since June, when Judge John S.W. Lim died.