Lawyer approved as appellate court judge
Corporate lawyer Katherine Leonard, the governor's second nominee for a judicial vacancy on the state Intermediate Court of Appeals, was unanimously approved by the Senate yesterday.
Leonard, a civil lawyer and partner in the firm Carlsmith Ball LLP, was approved for a 10-year term by a vote of 23-0, with two members absent.
"The senators were very fair with me throughout the process," Leonard said after the vote. "I feel they considered all the issues and I'm very appreciative of the outcome."
Eight senators voted "with reservations," including Judiciary Chairman Brian Taniguchi, who said he still had some concern over Leonard's lack of judicial experience.
Including Leonard, none of the six sitting judges on the appellate court worked as a judge prior to being appointed.
"My concern centers on what I perceive as a need for diversity among the judges of our Judiciary -- a need to have a balance of backgrounds when we fill positions," said Taniguchi (D, Moiliili-Manoa).
Judicial experience also was an issue last month when the Senate rejected Gov. Linda Lingle's nomination of Oahu Circuit Judge Randal Lee to the same post. Some senators questioned whether Lee, a former Honolulu deputy prosecutor, had accrued enough experience after serving on the bench for just two years.
"This is not to say that this should be a requirement that this position be filled by a judge, nor is it to say that an experienced trial judge would automatically be the best choice," Taniguchi said. "In the aftermath of this body's rejection of Judge Lee, I just believe the governor should've taken this into consideration when making her selection."
Lingle did not attend the Senate's confirmation vote.
Linda Smith, Lingle's senior adviser for policy, who attended the session with Leonard, cited testimony from prominent lawyers -- including Attorney General Mark Bennett and Hawaii State Bar Association President Jeffrey Portnoy -- who argued that judicial experience has little correlation with the success of judges appointed to the appellate court.
"They felt that was not a critical factor in terms of determining whether or not someone was suitable to become a judge," Smith said.
Leonard also acknowledged her lack of judicial experience, but said her career as a civil litigator has given her a solid understanding of the issues and procedures she is likely to face as a judge.
"I think judicial experience is a fair consideration," Leonard said, "but as has been said by Jeff Portnoy and others, I don't think it is a prerequisite for this job, but it was a fair thing to consider."
Leonard fills a post that has been vacant since June, when Judge John Lim died.