Tuesday, March 9, 1999

Pressure’s on
to up judges’ pay as
8th in 3 years resigns

Judge Steven Nakashima
steps down

By Susan Kreifels


Pressure is building on legislators to pass pay raises for judges after the eighth judge in three years resigned today, citing low pay, which hasn't changed in nine years.

Sen. Matt Matsunaga, co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expects legislators to act this session. "We knew this was coming," Matsunaga said. "This has a devastating effect on the judiciary. We need competent, experienced justices. If you don't have good salaries, you can't keep the judges you have."

District Court Judge Steven Nakashima, who was praised by members of the legal community, announced his resignation today. "This was a very difficult decision," Nakashima said.

Although Nakashima, who was appointed to the bench in 1994, said he loves his job, he said he couldn't afford to support his family on a judge's salary and is returning to private practice.

Judges' pay ranges from $81,000 to $97,000 a year, according to Matsunaga. He said early Senate bills that asked for 9 percent increases this year and next passed committees, but the one going to the full Senate today will leave amounts blank. He expects the House to pass a similar bill, also today.

Matsunaga said people who compare judges' pay to that of other public employees "miss the point" because judges can make so much more in private practice. He also said judges' salaries should not be linked to those of other public employees, who have received several pay raises since 1990. Attorney James Kawachika, immediate past president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, said the bar has always supported the raises.

"When good judges like Nakashima leave the bench because of pay, it's time for the Legislature to look hard at taking action," Kawachika said.

Kawachika said new judges face learning curves, which has an impact on the judiciary.

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