Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, December 6, 1999

Judge Simms setting
new bench marks

TIME to dive into the Honolulu Lite Department of Fairness File. Today's subject: Circuit Judge Sandra Simms.

Only about a year ago prosecutors, letters to the editor writers and columnists were excoriating her honor for going too easy on criminals.

Among the exhibits:

Bullet A man was convicted of punching and breaking the jaw of a 17-year-old boy while on probation for felony convictions. Simms let him stay out of prison for 3-1/2 months so he could "bond" with his newborn son.

Bullet Simms cut a 10-year prison sentence in half for a man convicted of drunken driving, his third drunken-driving conviction in a year.

Bullet Imposed just a 30-day jail sentence on Rodney Balbirona, who violated his parole twice after being convicted of theft in connection with the brutal beating and robbery of a Chicago police officer on the North Shore.

Simms was quoted at the time as saying she was "utterly amazed" at the amount of misinformation the public had about the case.

She pointed out that Balbirona, while involved in the North Shore incident, had not been convicted of beating the victim and had no history of violence.

The public, unrestrained by such judicial hair-splitting, simply recognized Balbirona for what he was, an unrepentant punk who needed to be locked up for more than just 30 days.

I have to admit, I came down on the judge pretty hard, saying her track record of sparing the gavel and spoiling the defendant probably was going to result in even more mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Update for Fairness File:

What a difference a year makes. You might say Judge Simms has turned over a new leaf but this is the Fairness File and we have to admit, we've never done an exhaustive review of her entire sentencing record. It's possible that her public sentence record was skewed by a few high-profile cases.

Simms has handed down a number of judgements recently that would make it hard to call her a complete softy now.

The biggest non-surprise for the public, however, would be Balbirona's complete betrayal of the Simms' leniency.

After blowing probation twice, Simms gave Balbirona a rare third chance. All he had to do to stay out of jail was report to a probation officer, get counseling, make restitution, get drug treatment and do 200 hours of community service.

What's Balbirona do? Nada. Well, he did four hours of community service cleaning up a beach.

So Simms just sent him to the joint for five years, even as he pleaded for a FOURTH CHANCE.

In recent months Simms also has sentenced a drunken driver to five years in prison; ordered a rich woman who defrauded the welfare system to pay a large fine and work 300 hours in homeless shelters; ordered a Big Island fisherman who was caught inadvertently carrying a gun through an airport X-ray machine to donate 500 pounds of fish to charity; and given another woman convinced of welfare fraud the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison after she violated parole.

That doesn't make Simms what you would call a "hangin' judge," in fairness you'd have to admit that she's not a complete pushover either. And she does come up with some creative sentencing.

As the prosecutor said in the gun case: "(That's) an awful lot of fish."

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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