Wednesday, July 14, 1999

State bar association
should evaluate judges

Bullet The issue: Leadership of the Hawaii State Bar Association is considering an independent process for evaluating state judges and sharing the results with citizens.

Bullet Our view: A confidentially conducted survey could result in valuable feedback for both judges and the public, which is already suspicious of the too-secretive branch of government.

WHILE members of the legislative and executive branches of state government toil, and sometimes get burned, under the lamp of public scrutiny, Hawaii's judiciary operates in comparative isolation. That's because most justices, judges and support staff abhor the limelight. They rarely discuss court business in public and never comment on rulings, leaving the impression that their acts are above open debate, even though their salaries and overhead costs are funded by taxpayers.

Now the Judicial Administration Committee of the Hawaii State Bar Association is attempting to change some mindsets and elucidate the process. Directors of the state bar are expected to vote tomorrow on a compelling idea that would set up an independent process for evaluating state judges. A professional survey firm would be hired to poll "appropriate individuals" (probably attorneys) and to collate the results, which would then become public information.

Honolulu attorney Douglas Crosier, who is chairman of the committee, points out that increased public knowledge is key to maintaining a high level of confidence in the judicial system, and adds that most judges would win favorable ratings.

But the innovative and long overdue idea could be ruled out of order, since at least one prominent jurist has opposed public disclosure of evaluation results in the past. Records show that Chief Justice Ronald Moon, while an associate justice in 1991, took the lead in defeating a similar state bar proposal.

Perhaps the chief justice believes differently now and recognizes that the court's longtime, unspoken policy of promoting secrecy and protecting its own -- especially with respect to appointments and reappointments -- deserves a little sunshine. The judiciary must join the other two branches of government in becoming more open to public scrutiny and feedback, or community frustration could lead to a misguided push for elected judges.

Increased confidence in the judiciary could also mean more support for judicial pay raises.

High-tech let-down

Bullet The issue: Honolulu continues to get poor ratings in its effort to keep up with high-tech development elsewhere in the country.

Bullet Our view: Improvement is essential to the city's economic growth.

AMERICA has entered into a dramatic era of technological development but, at this point, Hawaii is being left behind. A new study shows Honolulu only in the mid-range of cities involved in technological innovations. More important, it is among the slowest in fostering high-tech industries, according to the study by the Los Angeles-based Milken Institute. A huge effort is needed to make Hawaii friendlier to the type of business that is critical to economic growth.

Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley-propelled San Jose, Calif., topped the 300 metropolitan areas that were ranked according to output of high-tech goods and services and concentration of high-tech industries. Dallas, home to the nation's 20 largest telecommunications service companies, was runner-up, followed by Los Angeles/Long Beach, Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Albuquerque, N.M., Chicago, New York and Atlanta. Meanwhile, Honolulu was ranked 113th in the Milken study; it was 250th in high-tech growth since 1990, growing 30 percent less than the national average.

This should not come as a surprise. A national survey by the Small Business Survival Committee in Washington, D.C., ranked Hawaii last among states in its environment for entrepreneurs, and Forbes magazine ranked Honolulu 160th out of 162 metropolitan areas for development of high-tech business. "High-tech industries are determining which metropolitan areas are succeeding or failing," the Milken report says. "Without growth in high-tech sectors, metros will be left behind."

What must Honolulu do to attract high-tech development? The Milken report suggests some of the traditional approaches for luring business in general, such as low land costs, tax rebates and incentives.

But it says high-tech development is enhanced by a well-educated work force, education and research facilities, an existing network of suppliers, the availability of venture capital and quality-of-life features.

That checklist is formidable but not insurmountable for Honolulu.

Governor and Senate

Bullet The issue: Governor Cayetano and the state House agreed on key issues to be tackled in the next legislative session.

Bullet Our view: Cayetano and the Senate leadership should start working together, too.

SINCE the end of the 1999 legislative session, Governor Cayetano and the House leadership have been acting like honeymooners. In five meetings since May, they have agreed that their energies should be focused on three issues: the economy, civil service reform and improvement of the public school system.

If only this bliss could rub off on the Senate, whose leaders haven't invited the governor to meet during the interim or vice versa. The Senate's rejection of Margery Bronster as attorney general and Earl Anzai as budget director, and Cayetano's recent in-your-face appointment of Anzai as Bronster's replacement, have worsened the estrangement.

Is it lunacy to expect Cayetano and Senate President Mizuguchi to suppress their battling egos and attempt reconciliation for the good of Hawaii? Don't answer that.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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