Tuesday, July 13, 1999

State bar to vote
on evaluating judges

The evaluations would be made
public and proponents say that
would empower the people

By Ian Y. Lind


Directors of the Hawaii State Bar Association are expected to vote Thursday on a proposal to establish an independent process for evaluating state judges and sharing the results with the public, said Bar Association President Randy Roth.

Details of the proposal are still being finalized, but the association envisions using a professional survey firm "to achieve a proper confidential survey and statistically valid results," according to a statement from the Bar's Judicial Administration Committee, which developed the proposal.

The plan, if approved, would introduce a new level of public scrutiny to a judicial system that has retained traditions of secrecy long after other branches of government have yielded to the public's right to know.

Honolulu attorney Douglas Crosier, chairman of the committee, said increased public knowledge is critical to maintaining confidence in the judicial system, although he expects most judges to get high ratings.

"That's what our democracy is all about, giving power to people so that it becomes an open society in which government can be held accountable," Crosier said. "Knowledge and information is the only way that can be done."

Crosier said he will be meeting tomorrow to discuss the proposal with Chief Justice Ronald Moon, Judicial Selection Commission Chairman Wayne Matsuo, and Circuit Court Judge Frances Wong of the Hawaii Trial Judges Association.

The proposal's chance of approval most likely depends on whether Moon and other Judiciary officials have dropped long-standing opposition to public disclosure of evaluation results.

Moon, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the proposal before the meeting with Crosier.

But records show that Moon, while an associate justice, took the lead in defeating a similar proposal, considered by the Bar Association in 1991.

Moon told the Bar Association at that time that adoption of the evaluation plan would cause "serious damage to bench/bar relationships," according to a memo circulated by the Bar Association president.

Moon and eight other judges underscored their opposition by making an unusual personal appearance when the Bar Association board of directors met in November 1991 to vote on the proposal, minutes of the session show.

With Moon and other judges present, the Bar Association directors voted to defer the evaluation plan because they "did not want to jeopardize the good working relationship" with the Judiciary by pressing ahead with the plan "if the Judiciary was strongly opposed to it."

Matsuo, who took over as chairman of the Judicial Selection Commission earlier this year, said he wants to see more openness but is concerned about the impact of disclosing evaluations.

"If the commission decides to retain a judge but the evaluation is low, there would be media discussion, and the commission will always be at a disadvantage because its proceedings are required by the state Constitution to remain confidential. There are some things they can't bring up."

"I also wonder whether (pub- lic disclosure) leads to judges playing to the Bar rather than making the best judicial decisions and keeping control of the courtroom," Matsuo said.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin